5 Tips to Rediscover Your Purpose as an In-House Legal Innovator
By Axiom Law
In case you missed it or want to revisit this important topic: Experts share actionable tips for in-house counsel to reinvigorate their purpose and job satisfaction.
In-house legal roles are a coveted alternative to traditional law firm roles. However, is this grass always greener on the other side of the legal spectrum? In fact, job satisfaction rates for in-house counsel have been decreasing. Axiom’s recent in-house counsel survey revealed that burnout and shifting priorities are contributors to in-house discontent. Of those surveyed:
- 47% were very or extremely stressed out.
- 93% have re-evaluated legal career priorities since the pandemic.
- Over 1/3 reported their work was neither challenging nor engaging.
The tendency (as we saw during the Great Resignation), is for dissatisfied legal talent to consider a career change. Even though the Great Resignation has slowed down, most (89%) of survey participants agreed that they were likely to look for a new position in the next one to two years, while 57% were currently open to a new position at this time.
Being an in-house lawyer comes with a unique set of challenges, and it’s easy for you and your team members to lose sight of the original reasons the position drew you to this profession.
While switching jobs is often the instinctual response to career malaise, there is another option. Before looking outside the organization for a new role, in-house counsel may be able to make adjustments to improve their satisfaction in their current role by finding a sense of purpose in their position.
A recent installment of Axiom’s Higher Bar series examined how exactly you can find purpose in your in-house role. Zach Abramowitz, CEO of Killer Whale Strategies and LegalTech expert, led the panel discussion among industry experts including Robert Dilworth, Associate General Counsel of Bank of America, Brittany Leonard, General Counsel at Software Company Civics, and Michael Maletic, Senior Associate General Counsel at Broadcom.
Discussions highlighted how in-house counsel can reinvigorate their sense of purpose and fulfillment in their roles. “Purpose can be defined as finding or achieving some coherence between your values and your worldview,” explains Robert. “It’s striving to make sure you match the aspects of yourself and the requirements of your job.”
Key tips for counsel seeking to rediscover their passion and purpose included:
- Don’t underestimate the importance of varied work.
- Consider how AI might help you manage workloads.
- Make time for passion projects, like pro bono work.
- Reorient your purpose of business goals.
- Foster an inclusive and supportive team culture.
1. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Varied Work
The Axiom in-house survey revealed the top reasons for a lack of engagement are repetitive and routine tasks, a lack of alignment of legal and business objectives, administrative burdens, and being siloed to one niche area of law.
One of the reasons many lawyers are drawn to in-house work in the first place is because of the variation in the types of work available. However, over time, it is easy to feel stagnant and pulled into the same type of work repeatedly. Making an effort to increase involvement in more varied and strategic work can counteract the feeling of a lack of engagement. While some routine work is inevitable, even seemingly minor adjustments can have a profound impact.
Brittany explains how being in-house enabled her to feel more like a partner in the business versus just doing the “work” without seeing the purpose: “I went in-house a few years into my career and never looked back. It’s a great mix of a variety of work, and you’re able to help see things through. I think you’re actually able to help the business succeed on a deeper level because you’re in it - you’re talking to the business folks, you’re in meetings, you’re in the development of the business.”
Robert agrees: “When I first joined, I could see the impact of my decisions every day. I think that is one of the appeals that most people find in the in-house function - the ability to see the impact and the results.”
So how can in-house counsel continue to feel like they are partners to their business leaders? By actively seeking more strategic work and evolving the variety of work coming across their desk and the desks of their team members.
Methods of doing this include engaging with business teams to learn about needs, while at the same time, educating business teams on how your broader legal capabilities can be utilized. Directly requesting projects outside your typical role is important. Otherwise, it may be assumed that you are content with your current types of work.
GCs should apply this same approach to the rest of their legal team as well; the satisfaction of each member of the legal department is critical to avoid turnover. Legal leaders should proactively and genuinely engage with each team member to learn their areas of interest within their work, and even consider bringing in junior in-house counsel on strategic projects to offer them the chance to experience more engaging work. Doing so improves retention, which in turn decreases the ultimate workload on the legal leaders.
By leveraging additional outside support through flexible legal talent providers, you can provide your team with additional bandwidth to focus on legal matters that are challenging and that interest them, while allowing outside counsel to work on the lower-level matters that are time-consuming.
2. Consider How AI Might Help You Manage Workloads
In the Axiom in-house counsel survey, virtually all in-house legal counsel (99%) report that the volume of legal matters with which they’re dealing, as well as the complexity of those matters, has considerably increased over the past few years. Panel experts concurred. Michael noted that corporations “are under intense expense control pressures,” which results in pressure on in-house counsel to manage an increasing workload “with the same or even less resources.”
Artificial intelligence (AI), including large language models (LLMs), like ChatGPT, can help reduce workloads by performing aspects of work like preliminary minor drafts, proofreading, and brainstorming for AGC, DGC, and other in-house roles.
Some of the many ways in-house can use AI to manage workloads include:
- Developing checklists and issue lists
- Conducting preliminary legal research
- Drafting contract clauses
- Proofreading correspondence and other writing to correct mistakes and improve clarity
- Strategy brainstorming
- Quickly learning the basics of a new area of law or business
Of course, it remains important to check any AI work to ensure ethical compliance. Even so, AI can drastically decrease the time required for certain tasks.
For a deeper dive into the use of AI in the legal profession, check out AI Revolution for In-House Legal Teams: The Seven Headlines All Lawyers Need to Know or learn how Axiom uses AI in its day-to-day work to improve client needs through its digital hiring platform.
3. Make Time for Passion Projects
Taking time for passion projects can help in-house counsel reduce stress and return to their core work responsibilities with renewed vigor and motivation.
Passion projects come in multiple forms. They may be within the organization, like participating in a committee or volunteering for a unique project. Or they may be outside the organization, such as speaking engagements or pro bono work.
“Many of us were attracted to the law for idealistic reasons, and sometimes we can lose sight of that through the daily work,” Robert points out. “Giving back to the community through volunteering and, in particular, applying our legal skills to help other people is one way to help keep us grounded and to remember why we were attracted to the law.”
As an example, Brittany has become a LinkedIn influencer and brand strategist while retaining her full-time general counsel role. Her passion project originally arose organically when she began posting on LinkedIn “to change the industry and make an impact.” She was driven by a belief that legal professionals could be happier.
Passion projects don’t have to be legal in nature. As Michael pointed out, an important part of working is that it provides you with the resources to have a life outside of work. By exploring outside interests and hobbies, lawyers can improve their general life satisfaction, which naturally bleeds over into the workplace. Plus, work-life balance is linked to higher job satisfaction and productivity.
Making time for passion projects requires boundaries with others and effective time management. Boundaries are limits that are communicated, through words or actions, to others. For example, not responding to emails after 7 p.m. is a boundary. Some panelists suggested work boundaries could include: no Friday afternoon meetings, keeping calendars private, and not allowing people to book meetings without pre-approval of time and topic.
In addition to boundaries, there are other ways to improve time management. Technology such as AI and project management platforms can be used to increase efficiency. Batching tasks - performing like tasks in a group together - can also help free up time because it streamlines focus and avoids time lost in task switching. Prioritizing tasks is also essential. In the world of in-house counsel, there is always something else you could do. It’s important to know when something can be delegated or delayed.
4. Reorient Your Purpose of Business Goals
In-house counsel, in contrast to outside counsel, is a part of the business itself. Shifting your mindset from viewing your role in the legal department as separate from the business to being an integral part of the organization’s success tends to naturally increase feelings of investment in your role. This can be accomplished by gaining an understanding of current business objectives and priorities (which may have shifted since you started at the organization) and then aligning legal priorities with those specific goals.
The importance of building a collaborative culture between legal and business teams cannot be overstated. Michael and Brittany explained how taking time to get to know the business operations through interacting with other teams helps humanize the legal department and foster a sense of trust. When other departments have a strong relationship with legal, they are more likely to come to counsel with problems before they are real problems. This form of working relationship is both more enjoyable and more effective than one where legal is only brought into the loop after issues arise. Having strong inter-departmental relations also opens opportunities for in-house counsel to learn more about other aspects of the business they may be intrigued by.
“I want to help my internal clients and I want to help the company achieve its goals,” Michael says. “To me, much like doing a good job, that provides me with a high sense of purpose.”
Brittany agrees: “When you're sitting in a room full of people and it’s not full of just lawyers, and you're there because they want you to be there, there's no greater feeling.”
5. Foster an Inclusive and Supportive Team Culture
Team relations and culture significantly impact work satisfaction. Fostering an inclusive and supportive team culture can help renew excitement about the job for both legal leaders and their team. In developing strong relationships with their team members, managing counsel is often energized through helping lower-level legal staff in their professional development.
During the webinar, panelists provided valuable tips for fostering a supportive team culture based on their own experience in the legal industry. Advice included the following:
- Show genuine interest in staff, including their interests and development goals.
- Stand up for staff when appropriate, such as if a customer treats a legal staff member in a demeaning way.
- Model a collaborative atmosphere by admitting what you don’t know and seeking answers from knowledgeable staff, whether inside or outside the legal department.
- Remember that each member of staff is human, not just a worker, and treat them accordingly. It’s amazing what a joke can do to lighten the mood!
💡 Learn how to revitalize your passion for the law, prioritize your well-being and that of your team, and find true meaning in your lawyer life.
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