Navigating in-house careers in law

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Navigating careers in law
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Navigating careers in law: how to create the career you want

How can in-house lawyers get legal career advice that helps them find the right path for them? We sat down with a panel of four senior lawyers to discuss career paths that can get you where you want to be.

To watch the webinar in full, click the preview at the top of this page.

Michael Haynes: Good afternoon, everyone. Really pleased to see you here. Thank you for bearing with us for just a couple of minutes behind time. I've got the great pleasure today of hosting another Juro roundtable, this time on the topic of navigating your in-house legal career. I'm really privileged to be joined by three senior lawyers from three different geographies, which is quite exciting. They have some pretty amazing experiences of navigating their way through their own careers that they're able to share very candidly with us.

These are the topics we're going to cover. There's some time set aside for Q&A at the end. Do drop questions in the questions tab in the bottom right corner of the screen as you go through. We'll try and answer some of them as we go, but otherwise we'll set aside some time again to do that. So without much further ado, I'm going to hand over to each of our panelists in order to introduce themselves, say where they currently are, and maybe a one minute on how they got there. Then we'll dive into the details a bit more afterwards. So let's start with Graeme.

Graeme Barron: Thanks, Michael. Pleasure to be here. Hi, everyone. My name is Graeme Barron, currently VP of Legal at GWI. GWI, for those of you who don't know, is a remarked research and technology business, series B scale-up heading towards some sort of exit at some point. It's kind of on an exciting growth journey. Prior to GWI, I spent three years with Trustpilot, and before that, Skyscanner. I've been through a couple of scale-ups now, really enjoyed the journey, and have definitely developed almost an addiction for scale-up businesses. So yeah, thoroughly enjoying life. We might get into it, but I've had a wide range of experience within the legal profession and done everything from criminal and fishing law to corporate law. So yeah, definitely had a wide range of experience, but quite happy with where things have ended up and happy to be here.

Michael Haynes: Thanks, Graeme. Johanna?

Johanna Edvald: Hi everyone. My name is Johanna. I'm currently sitting in my native city of Reykjavik, Iceland, but I work for Podimo, which is a scale-up as well in Copenhagen. I'm a senior legal counsel there and I've been there since October of last year. Very much enjoying the journey. It's a podcast and audiobook subscription company that's growing fast and operating in seven countries already. Before that, I was actually a general counsel for just over a year for a video marketing software company, a white label solution also from Copenhagen. The bulk of my career was at an agricultural science company, an American company called FMC. I was there for just under five years, where I kind of got my biggest development journey.

As you've seen from my introduction, I also used to be a flight attendant or a senior cabin crew for an Icelandic airline, which comes in handy in many ways as an experience. Before that, and alongside it, I was working as an intern at a prestigious law firm in Iceland and also at the hottest startup at the time in Reykjavik, Iceland. But I can tell you more about that later. Thank you.

Michael Haynes: Cool. Thanks. And last but not least, Fiona.

Fiona Konetzky: Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me. My name is Fiona. I'm VP, Legal and Compliance of Adverity. Adverity is an integrated data platform for teams that run on data. So we're providing SaaS and B2B sector services. Previously, I've had some different experiences. I worked in the public sector as well as the private sector and collected some interesting insights, but decided for myself nearly five years ago that I really prefer the private sector. For the first time ever, I worked for a startup back then, which is Adverity. Now we had four financing rounds, with the last series D happening in 2021. Now we're a group company with a total of five legal entities that my team and I manage from the legal side.

Michael Haynes: Great. Thanks very much, Fiona. For those who haven't met me before, I'm Michael, I'm general counsel at Juro. But for the purpose of this, I am a professional webinar host. Let's take it from there.

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Scaling the legal function

Michael Haynes: So let's start with you, Fiona. I think you've got a really exciting scaling journey, taking your legal function from just you to a team of seven. How was that? How do you approach that process from the start? What things did you do in that process that you feel contributed most to your success?

Fiona Konetzky: I'd say I didn't approach the process at all. It just happened at some point. When I joined Adverity in 2019, the company had closed the series B and they decided, isn't there a person that actually handled all these contracts? And it was me. So my role, I started as a contract specialist. Then pretty soon after I started, they realized having a legal person in-house is really useful because there's much more I can do than just reviewing contracts. This is how my position developed. Thankfully, Adverity is quite successful and we got more and more work to do. This made me become a head of when I had my first colleague joining the legal team. Now I have seven colleagues with different qualifications, all of them lawyers.

It was a crazy journey, where I had to do everything from being a sole counsel to becoming a manager for the first time. Also, since two years, I'm part of the VP team, which is great fun for me as well. It's also my task to align on the strategy with other senior leadership members.

Michael Haynes: That's good. It's quite a journey. Hiring your first person and then suddenly realizing you've got to seven, it always feels like time moves at double speed through that as well. Graeme, you've got this kind of unhealthy addiction to scale-ups, which I at least recognize as well, including your time at Trustpilot and Skyscanner. What are the common challenges you faced across those legal teams and what tactics and strategies did you employ to effectively overcome those?

Graeme Barron: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think all the organizations I've been with have been through that scaling journey of trying to do more with less, going from a place of real firefighting to strategic mode and trying to get through that journey. A lot of it is about becoming more efficient on the high volume, slightly lower impact work so you can start to focus on strategic matters. A lot of my journeys have been about scaling contracting, building systems, building processes, and automating processes to allow things to be more of a machine on the contracting side. This then gives you space to think about the more bigger impact or strategic work. That's often been a challenge.

There's a temptation when you get into a scale-up of thinking, my god, there's all this work, we need about 20 lawyers. You're never going to get your CFO to do that. So you need to find ways to enable your organization to self-serve. That's one of the things I've seen throughout all of my journeys: how do we enable the business to self-serve and empower themselves to make their own decisions with the right guidance? A lot of my journey has been about getting less coming into the legal team, which is slightly counterintuitive, but it's okay if they're low-level things or low-hanging fruit that you can get your commercial colleagues to self-serve and not come into legal. You can then start thinking about the bigger impact work. So for me, that's been a common theme throughout all of my roles.

Michael Haynes: Yeah, I certainly recognize that. The challenge of scale is you try to do even less as the task becomes even bigger. Johanna, your career is one of the more unusual ones here. There's a couple of things you mentioned in your introduction that I think would be really interesting to hear more about. One was the transition. You took a break from your legal career and then transitioned back into legal after your time as a flight attendant. The other bit I'm really interested in is moving from a GC role back into a senior legal counsel role and choosing a place to work, a company and a culture over title. Tell me more about both of those; they both sound quite interesting.

Johanna: Yes, thank you. I'll have to go back to the start of why I got into flying in the first place. Iceland, where I'm from, is strategically located between Europe and the US, so we have a lot of airline activities there. At the time I was 21, the collective agreements were really good, and scheduling everything was kind of a dream extra money alongside a university job that you could have that was paying much better than entry-level legal jobs. I could do that part-time, only a couple of flights a month, and then during the summer during my bachelor. Then when I got into my bachelor, I also got some legal opportunities. I was working as a legal intern for a really hot startup in Reykjavik. There was basically one general counsel, and I was kind of her right hand, so I got to dip my fingers into a lot of different things and got some strong experience.

When I took a break from flying, I also did an internship at a law firm as well, a really good one. We don't have any first-tier law firms in Iceland, but it was a top second-tier firm. When I was graduating my masters, the startup I worked for had 75 million users. That company was bought out by Gloomobile and closed operations in Iceland. So I had to think fast and took a full-time job as a flight attendant with the airline I had previous experience from. I don't regret it because it paid well, had nice traveling layovers and everything. But of course, I knew that I had a ticking clock on me because the longer you're out of law full-time, the harder it is to claw your way back in.

So I was looking at opportunities in Copenhagen, where I wanted to live with my partner. The opportunity that I stumbled upon was for FMC Agricultural Solutions, which is an industry I had never thought about going into. But when you're a new lawyer, you don't really choose the industry; the industry might choose you. I got really lucky with my team there; it was a legal team of 90 with 23 attorneys. They taught me everything, and I grew up there more than in a law firm. They actually sponsored me to take my bar exam in Iceland as well. My LinkedIn doesn't really make sense because a lot of things were sometimes happening at the same time. After being there for nearly five years, I decided during COVID that I wanted something more human, a smaller, younger team, somewhere where I could go centrally in Copenhagen every day.

So I took a job as a general counsel and could really sell myself in that position. I had been dipping my toe into all the different compliance fields and contracting. Then I got to be part of the leadership team. I saw that Podimo was looking for someone, the ad said to lead the team. I thought, well, this might be perfect. After the interview process, they decided to hire someone else as a general counsel who had more than 10 years my senior. I was already sold on the company and wanted to work there so badly. It has the right culture, the right speed, and is on a journey I want to be a part of. I'll trust that I'll be able to scale my career with that company. So far, it's been living up to my expectations.

Transitioning to leadership

Michael Haynes: It's a great example of how important it is to have some motivating factor, whether it's development, people you want to work with, or a product you believe in. Let's talk a little bit about the transition to leadership as well. That's something all three of you have done. It's a step change, going from lawyering to managing to leading. I'm really interested to hear about that transition. How does that role change? How do you go from being a lawyer to being a more strategic advisor, helping with business subjects? Fiona, is that something you've seen in your transition to VP Legal?

Fiona: Yes, of course. Most likely, law school doesn't teach you that, right? It was something I experienced the first time at Adverity, and it was quite challenging. I enjoyed it from the first time because I could choose my first hire myself. Adverity gave me all the trust to find a perfect match with the rest of my team. The biggest aha moment was realizing that, as an organized person with an eye for details, I had to enable my team without micromanaging. As a first-time leader, I made some mistakes, but I ended up with great relationships with my hires. Focusing on enabling and training your team members is key to having headspace for strategic work. It was overwhelming at the beginning, but I found that focusing on each team member's strengths and weaknesses was helpful. If you find the perfect role for your team members, that's the best thing about being a manager.

Michael Haynes: Completely agree. Graham, was that a similar experience for you? The other part of leadership is transitioning from being a lawyer to a manager to a business leader. How did you find that? What skills did you need to develop quickly going into that?

Graeme Barron: It's such an interesting transition. As a lawyer, you have the temptation to get into the weeds because you genuinely love the work. It's hard to lift yourself up from that work to focus on creating an environment where your team can thrive. That's a new skill set for many lawyers. You need to focus on the strategy, ensure clear alignment within the team, and give your team space to achieve their goals. You also need to become an industry and business expert to align with the business strategy and advance growth. It's much more of an all-around business skill set rather than just core lawyer skills.

To watch the webinar in full, click the preview at the top of this page.

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