How senior legal team members can coach new in-house counsel


For GCs trying to build out their in-house legal team, it’s critical that they get new hires working at full capacity as quickly as possible. 

But a big challenge they face when it comes to onboarding new hires is how to shape, influence and support junior lawyers who are new to the business, industry and corporate environments. 

To help overcome this common challenge for senior legal professionals, we talked with Hugh Kerr, senior lawyer at Caravel Law, who has outlined tips to create an effective coaching strategy for new lawyers joining their teams. 

  1. Respect different learning styles 

Every lawyer has a different learning style and a different approach to communication. It’s important for senior leaders not to force everyone into the same mold. This means ensuring your onboarding training accounts for visual, auditory and tactical learners, as well as multimodal learners. Offering a variety of training formats and activities can help keep new hires engaged and retain more of what they learn.

  1. Help them to understand the business

One of the most crucial steps for a new hire is to get to know the business. Mentors should encourage them to sit in on meetings with different departments, schedule one-on-ones with department heads, join committees, and attend quarterly information sessions led by the CEO. They should also take advantage of external training opportunities to learn more about the industry in which they’re working. It’s essential they understand how the business operates, what the organization’s goals are and what challenges they face. It’s also crucial they stay on top of legal developments, like changing legislation and legal cases impacting their industry. Armed with this knowledge, they’ll be able to speak to their clients more effectively, using their language. They’ll also be able to give better, faster legal advice once they understand the ins and outs of the organization. 

[Read our blog post: Why lawyers with in-house legal experience are so valuable]

  1. Remind them they are part of a team

Lawyers coming from law firms are used to working as independents alongside their colleagues. They often aren’t familiar with the hierarchical structure of a corporate business. The last thing you want new hires to do is to sit in their cubicle, working in a silo all day. While you don’t want them to be beholden to the chain of command, they must understand how this organizational model works. Also, being part of a legal team means they aren’t alone. There are people they can go to to ask for help on technical legal questions or on how to navigate the organization.  Team members can also provide support if they have a heavy workload. This teamwork-based mind shift is incredibly important for new hires learning about life as an in-house lawyer.

  1. Change their perception of risk 

Many lawyers are incredibly risk-averse. But moving into an in-house role means learning how to be comfortable with risk. In a business setting, every decision or action has some level of risk attached to it. It’s important to explain to new team members the risk/reward trade-off and how to make calculated, intelligent risk-based decisions in their new role. At the same time, new hires need to understand the resource constraints of private businesses, and that, oftentimes, you won’t have the means to run things perfectly. This means accepting a level of risk and finding creative solutions and workarounds to function with finite resources. 

[Read our blog post: How to choose a start-up lawyer]

  1. Lead by example 

One of the most effective ways to teach new hires about accepting more risk is to lead by example. Senior in-house lawyers can demonstrate their risk appetite by giving intelligent risk-oriented advice in meetings and presentations. Watching their leader show a healthy level of comfort with risk will make new legal hires more likely to take calculated risks on their own. 

  1. Get them to check their ego at the door

Some lawyers have big egos and in meetings they may assume that because they’re the lawyer, they are the smartest person in the room. But that would be a dangerous and often incorrect assumption.  Many lawyers and especially new hires have a lot to learn – especially when it comes to working in a corporate setting and a new industry.  It’s important for leaders to reinforce that when they join a business they are part of a team, and that there are experts on that team who have important insights to share. Remind them that there is incredible value in diversity of thought and that it’s important to listen and consider what other team members have to say.  

  1. Set attainable short-term goals 

New hires need well-defined short-term goals to be effective in their role. Ensure they take on one significant project in their first year, where they meet senior people and interact with clients in different parts of the business.  Then, find them an opportunity to take ownership of a smaller part of the business. Ideally, they can build their subject matter expertise and become the go-to person. That sense of ownership will help build attachment to the legal team and the company. 

[Read our blog post: Tips for high-growth tech start-ups setting up their legal support]

  1. Give them professional independence 

Giving new legal hires room to grow is paramount – plus, no one wants to be micromanaged. Once you feel they’re ready, give them more responsibility and step aside. One of the most rewarding aspects of building a high-performing legal team is watching each individual grow, learn and prosper, knowing you had an active hand in helping them realize their potential. 

A business is only as strong as its people, and that’s especially true when it comes to in-house legal teams. Taking a strategic approach to training and coaching new lawyers within your business is the most effective way to set up you – and your team – for long-term success.

Need help building up your team of new legal hires? Caravel is an alternative legal firm with over 80 qualified and experienced lawyers, including those who specialize in coaching new lawyers. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.

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