If you’re an experienced law firm attorney or in-house counsel, you’ve probably thought about landing a general counsel role, one that would enable you to oversee the entire legal operations of a company. General counsel roles are highly coveted and competitive, often making them the pinnacle of a legal career. There are specific characteristics and traits of a general counsel, and I am often asked by clients: how do I write an effective general counsel resume and market myself strategically for a general counsel position.
A general counsel is first and foremost a business strategist, valued partner, trusted advisor, and change agent who is called upon to mitigate business and legal risk for the greater good of the corporation. A general counsel is a sophisticated thinker and a stoic communicator who can build consensus and collaboration across the business enterprise — from the technical teams all the way through midlevel management and into the C-suite and boardrooms. General counsels must be savvy in how they communicate as well as simplistic in how they explain and translate legal concepts into business speak. A general counsel is focused on tackling the most complex business and legal problems while reducing the overabundance of outside and inside legal costs and enhancing efficiencies through better business processes. As you can see, there are various skills that make for a great general counsel.
When writing a general counsel resume, I ask corporate counsels a series of questions that hinge on specific core competencies across corporate governance, compliance, business formation, contracts, legal operations, employee relations, and even crisis management. Here are some tips to get you started in thinking about writing a general counsel resume as well as marketing yourself strategically for a general counsel role.
Zero In On Your Personal Brand
The top third of the general counsel resume is prime real estate to market yourself and your unique value. You want to begin with a branding statement that captures the reader’s attention and focus in your three or four best areas of expertise. Whether it’s corporate governance, board leadership, contracts, or litigation, the key is to position yourself strategically, so a reader (likely the CEO or executive search recruiter) knows your best assets. Your professional summary will be a roadmap to those best-selling assets. I utilize two or three sentences for a professional summary paragraph — focusing in on the most important areas of expertise, the concentrated focus (Fortune 100 experience, private-backed equity experience, industry sectors, etc.), followed by examples of those areas of expertise in several subsequent bullet points. Consider the types of organizations you’ve worked for versus the ones of immediate interest. You want to convey those items to the reader.
Focus On Your Corporate Generalist Skills
General counsels have broad corporate generalist skills across many areas — including commercial transactions, employment matters, HR (executive compensation), governance, litigation, antitrust, and IP (technology and data privacy). It’s key to pick the ones where your skills are the strongest and write down examples next to those areas of focus. Just mentioning those skills is not enough. You need evidentiary support. If you’ve handled numerous mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, pick the four or five biggest ones you’ve led, strategically discussing their value and building context in a bullet point. If you’ve developed compliance programs, consider having a bullet point that has a few sentences and discusses in detail the types of compliance initiatives you’ve led and outcomes they’ve brought to the enterprise. For contracts, think about all the different contracts you’ve negotiated, both in the law firm and corporation sector. For litigation, think about high-dollar matters you’ve handled that have produced big outcomes or curtailing effects. You see where I am going with all of this — it’s in the details not just the cursory overview of the skill set.
Discuss Your Blended Legal And Business Leadership Acumen
General counsels interact with and present to boards and executive committees and create stakeholder buy-in. If it’s a public company, SEC reporting and other requirements will be involved. General counsels are skilled at being a part of executive teams, centering their interactions with the C-suite and business unit leaders as well as potential investors. Additionally, general counsels manage attorneys and legal departments while also managing cross-functional business opportunities. All of these must be included and stressed in the resume. Think of the ways in which you’ve mitigated risk, actively resolved disputes, navigated legal and operational risk, and avoided costly litigation. Remember, general counsels are more of a businessperson and less of a litigator.
Use LinkedIn To Your Advantage
If you’re looking to land a general counsel role, begin to analyze job postings for general counsels on LinkedIn, goinhouse.com, and executive search websites. Pay attention to the companies hiring. Connect with executive search firms as well as specific recruiters that place general counsels and build a relationship. Ask for informational interviews. Be sure to have your elevator pitch ready — write down what you offer a company in terms of your legal and business skillset and write down what you’re looking for in your next role. Join key organizations such as the Association of Corporate Counsel, which offers instructive summits, conferences, and networking opportunities for current corporate counsels. Follow general counsels and other legal career experts on LinkedIn. Begin to build a rapport and broader network with those who are where you want to be. Do not be afraid to seek out mentorship.
Have a question for me about writing a general counsel resume? Feel free to reach out and connect on LinkedIn.
Wendi Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and founder of The Writing Guru, an award-winning executive resume writing services company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, executives, and C-suite/Board leaders for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications about alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach her by email at [email protected], connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.