Not taught at General Counsel School: There is a General Counsel School!

Queens' College Erasmus As much as law firms try to help its lawyers understand what life is like for the in house colleague they can’t teach the full suite of skills required. In house lawyers must be trained in finance, operational matters & applied legal strategy to operate effectively in a business.

An in house lawyer who fails at these things risks being too isolated from their colleagues and business who they’re meant to be serving. Being an in house lawyer doesn’t automatically gift you with these skills.

LBC Wise Counsel’s founder Paul Gilbert saw this problem 14 years ago and started teaching in house lawyers how to be better business people. I attended the course on 7-9 April 2013 at Queens’ College in Cambridge and discovered that Paul runs the General Counsel school.

Barbara Hamilton-Bruce wrote about the Cambridge Course in great detail which you can read here. I agree with Barbara’s account and sentiment.

The lessons for me are that I’d make this course compulsory for my in house team – it helps lawyers integrate better and makes them more valuable to the business. I would also make the legal team sit with the finance team – operationally the interests are aligned but the finance way of looking at the world helps lawyers understand why and how business decisions are made. It may also teach lawyers about brevity and getting to the point.

The course content is excellent and like anything you get out what you put in. It was refreshing to see that the attendees were all excited about being there rather than resigned to enduring something for a few CPD points. The enthusiasm is an endorsement of the content mixed with understanding that we needed to know it to improve our careers!

However good the prepared content is, it was when I spoke with fellow attendees and other more seasoned in house lawyers and guests dragooned by Paul that I learned the most. The out of hours discussions at the pub were the golden opportunities and the barriers came down; the honesty began. I saw former colleagues (co-attendees) with new appreciation, learned that my frustrations with “business people” were shared and received some helpful career advice.

A chance conversation with Carolyn Kirby, a Judge who happened to be there as Paul’s guest, put me right about the quality of my CV and convinced me that so long as my experiences are relevant a full and interesting CV rather than a safe and solid one was OK and preferable – “we work a long time, who wants it to be dull and boring? There was no arguing with this Judge.

You’re a lawyer – your basic legal training has taught you how to argue for something that you want. LBC Cambridge runs a few times throughout the year and it’s worth negotiating a business case for the budget to attend. It moves you on from just being a lawyer which is why you went in house, right?

Published by Brett

Brett is an experienced lawyer and business executive who focuses on commercial outcomes. He has worked across three sectors in England & Australia advising and leading initiatives in digital, media and technology

2 thoughts on “Not taught at General Counsel School: There is a General Counsel School!

  1. I totally agree. I moved from a Crown Law office to legal within a department and you operate completely differently. I have spent most of my career making law in departments and my ability to understand operations and the law makes me extremely effective. However I dispair at the in-house lawyers who practice black letter law which is done by lawyers who don’t have a full appreciation of the business – advice is often less helpful and not cognisant of the variety of risks sometimes including political which go towards making a good decision on the best way forward.

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