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In-House Careers — Featuring Sonya Olds Som

As most of you know, even for the most high-achieving in-house counsel, navigating a successful in-house career path is a challenging and labor-intensive process, and requires both constant vigilance and expert assistance.

So In The House is delighted to be working with Sonya Olds Som, a partner with Major, Lindsey & Africa, with many years of experience helping in-house counsel forge successful and long-term careers.  On this In The House Insights page, Sonya regularly shares her accumulated wisdom and experience, to help you and your in-house peers find that next great job, or simply perform at your best in your current position.

Learn more about Sonya and her practice at MLA here.

  • Wednesday, June 21, 2017 2:43 PM | Anonymous member

    My Dear In-House Counsel Friends: 

    I hope that you are enjoying the beginning of summer!  As I mentioned in last month’s column, I spent the spring traveling around the country attending events and speaking at conferences.  One of the conferences at which I spoke was the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s (CLOC) 2nd annual Institute in Las Vegas in May (

    At CLOC, my session was a dialogue on the topic of “Salary Negotiations for Legal Ops:  Insider Tips on How to Successfully Negotiate” with my Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) colleague Mark Yacano.  Mark leads MLA’s Managed Legal Services practice group, and advises law departments on the delivery of legal services.

    Following our presentation at the CLOC Institute, Mark and I prepared the following top ten list of salary negotiation tips for legal operations professionals. Since these tips apply equally to in-house counsel, I am sharing them with you here:

    1. Prepare from the beginning for a successful outcome by being self-aware about what you’re seeking and bringing to the table.  Take time to consider why you’re interested in the job. Are you looking for more money?  Greater challenges?  A better work culture, improved life circumstances or more room for growth?  The “why” is a major factor in what success looks like when you negotiate your salary.  Use it to determine your requirements in terms of money, benefits and location as well as the bigger developmental goal(s) you’d like to achieve in the position.  It’s also important to identify what you’ll bring to the company by mapping out your skill set, past successes and history of meeting new challenges.  

    2. Context is key to negotiating intelligently.  Go in knowing what your peers are generally paid and what the industry benchmarks are for executive and non-executive pay in your vertical.  Be sure that you’re also equipped with a broad understanding of the company’s particular compensation structure and culture.

    3. Start talking compensation with the right people at the right time. How you discuss compensation in interviews will shape their perception of you as a candidate.  Don’t come across as a mercenary. Ask for directional guidance on the company’s compensation structure—if the parameters are right, shift your focus to the culture and contours of the position.  If you have a recruiter, leverage them for insights, but avoid discussing salary requirements during interviews with potential peers or direct reports.

    4. Approach negotiations with the right attitude.  Salary negotiations shouldn’t be treated as a strictly commercial transaction, win-or-lose proposition or tactic to gain leverage over your current employer.  If you view them as a recognition of the value you will bring to the organization and vice versa, they’re an opportunity to show firmness and purpose in a positive way.

    5. Secure a formal offer letter prior to any negotiations.  If you both agree to move forward, ask them to put together an offer letter with all the specifics and essential terms.  Be honest about your compensation history if they inquire. If they ask about your salary expectations, indicate that you want to be fairly compensated within the framework of their compensation structure.  After your initial discussion, send an email to confirm the substance of your conversation and next steps. Be sure to express your enthusiasm for the role and indicate that you’re looking forward to getting a formal offer.

    6. Think through the offer letter carefully before responding.  Discuss its contents with your recruiter and/or a trusted advisor. Highlight the terms you agree with in one color, areas of disagreement in another, and points to clarify with a third.  Outline your “Asks and Questions” in advance of arranging a call to discuss the offer. Try to limit yourself to one or two asks.

    7. When it comes to talking money, make requests fact-based.  Use your homework to negotiate on base salary, explaining your required figure and the rationale behind it.  The same goes for bonuses—give circumstance-driven reasons behind your request, such as moving expenses, lost stock options, etc.

    8. Come to an agreement as quickly as possible while ensuring there’s a process in place for revisiting tabled issues.  Avoid “One More Thing Syndrome.”  Decide which terms are most critical, and signal that you’re ready to commit if they meet them.  Often, the prospect of closure creates the framework for accommodation.  If some of your terms aren’t met, ask for an agreement in writing to address any open issues, for instance, during a six-month performance review.

    9. Protect your brand.  Remember that how you handle negotiations will pave the way for how you’re welcomed aboard.  Hard-nosed dealings might get you more dollars, but they may also give rise to hard feelings.  Set the right tone by being gracious, professional and rational from the start.

    10. Flip at your own peril.  People who enter negotiations in bad faith, using offers simply to get more money out of their current employer, generally don’t last much longer.  Be wary of creating institutional mistrust that can not only sour your current position but also damage your overall reputation and future career prospects.

    There you have it!  Remember: salary negotiations occur at a very vulnerable time in a professional relationship, where both sides have demonstrated interest, but the final commitment has not yet been made.  If mishandled, the professional consequences can be severe.  Be smart and strategic in this business communication as in all others. As the old saying goes, “pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered.”  Too hard a push for a potential short term gain can lead to big long term losses in reputation and opportunities, within your company, in the industry – and with recruiters.  I know more than one in-house counsel candidate whose lack of deft handling of salary negotiations led to the job offer being rescinded entirely, which did not reflect well on the candidates and did nothing good for their reputations.  You should definitely try to get a fair salary deal, and you almost certainly will if you are thoughtful, measured and informed in your approach.  Don’t let a “Show Me the Money!” attitude lead to your dream job showing you the door.

  • Friday, April 28, 2017 11:11 PM | Anonymous member

    My dear in-house counsel friends! As you know, my monthly In The House column aims to provide you with behind-the-scenes tips to which I am privy as a recruiter — issues you may not know about, but which can help you in advancing your career. This month's column is about a potential secret weapon at your disposal: your relationship with outside counsel.

    Often, the discussion about the in-house counsel–law firm relationship focuses on conflict —like charging too much money, poor communication, or just generally trying to get one over on each other. But there can be so much more to this relationship if both sides take a step back and look at the big picture.  The biggest, most overlooked benefit of this relationship for in-house counsel is the professional development potential that exists. Law firm partners have deep networks. Because they are responsible for business development for their firms, they spend a lot more of their time developing a great many important relationships than you do as an in-house counsel. Why not take advantage of who and what they know which can help your career outside of the transaction? I know law firm partners and GCs who have had each other's backs throughout their careers. Together they rise!

    It is important to note that companies often contact their outside counsel for recommendations on GC and other in-house counsel hires before they take any other recruitment steps. It would behoove you to have good relationships with some of the key outside counsel players. Beyond hiring recommendations, though, outside counsel can greatly assist you in your career development.

    Consider this: As an in-house counsel, you want to build your brand, grow your network and knowledge, and otherwise advance your career by speaking on panels, authoring articles, winning awards, and generally getting your name out there. Perhaps you have an interest in attending a particular organization's event but you don't have an "in" that you know of. But wait! Your law firm partner just happens to know the president of that organization. This is a perfect opportunity to tap into that relationship and ask for an introduction. And because you have developed such a trusting relationship with your law firm partner, you should have no problem mentioning your interest and gauging their ability to pull some strings. And your law firm partner, wanting to maintain your esteem, will gladly pick up the phone and make that call.

    Smart law firm partners are consistently trying to help their in-house clients be more successful because as the in-house person rises, the law firm rises. As a recruiter, I receive daily calls and emails from law firm partners nationwide advocating for their in-house clients and friends, and I have a list of law firm partners I reach out to when I am seeking referrals for in-house counsel candidates.

    "Outside counsel has a very effective network," explained Damien Atkins, general counsel at Panasonic Corporation of North America. "It's not just any outside counsel, however; it's the outside counsel that understands that presenting professional development opportunities is a way to provide value to a client. You really want to find partners that have a deep knowledge base on particular things and use them for free information and free education, which can be incredibly beneficial. For example, if you are in a liability crisis and you have outside counsel with an M&A background, you can lean on them as a resource to get smart in this area and to be the best you can be."

    To Damien's point, often, there are substantive skill boxes that need to be checked so that an in-house counsel can grow to become a better, more competitive candidate for a desired opportunity down the road. A trusted law firm partner can provide training and access to other opportunities to help you check those boxes.

    Both as a law firm partner and as a partner/recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa, I have done many seemingly unusual things over the years to help out my clients and contacts (finding dentists and hairdressers, babysitting so the GC could go to an important business dinner, helping to write an acceptance speech for an award a GC won, advising on the right tie for an interview, and so on). My goal is always to be helpful however I can and show how valuable I can be beyond the day-to-day transactional legal (or legal search) needs. Sure, I can take (and have taken) my clients to lunch or to the theatre, but they don't really need more food or tickets to Hamilton from me (though, that is a lot of fun, too!). They need good counsel about their careers (and sometimes their personal lives), great introductions, invitations to useful events, to be nominated for awards, published in trade journals, featured as a panelist or keynote speaker at an industry event. By using my connections and abilities to help elevate them, I am, in turn, helping myself.

    Joe Drayton, partner at Cooley, shares similar experiences, "I've co-authored an article or 12, and I've arranged so many speaking engagements that I cannot count them." He sees these professional development opportunities as ways to help his client succeed and, in turn, build a trusting relationship. "The more experiences we can help them obtain, the better equipped they are to do their jobs. That trust factor is so important. A GC will call when they need someone they trust in every which way. That trust will grow if you can personally advise them on their company's matters but also show you can give advice—and be trusted with—their most sensitive matters outside of the organization."

    Chalk it up to experience and intuition, but Joe looks for real opportunities for his clients that are going to "resonate and complete the package." He sees himself as a connector and realizes that if he looks for opportunities to help and give, then he is helping himself and fostering better relationships. "I have learned that it is better to give than to receive, so my thought with my external clients is how can I give. I just live my life by that principle. I'm constantly thinking how can I help? How can I assist my clients? Not because I'm trying to grow my book, but because I'm trying to tap into genuine qualities that make me a better person. If you listen more than you talk, those things will become more evident to you. You have to find people who want to build a business and know your best interests and their best interests are aligned."

    Damien echoes that sentiment about his role as in-house counsel in this relationship, "You can't be very transactional about your relationships; it’s important to give first—and give because it's the right thing to do—and not expect anything from it. Over time you'll see the more you give, the more you'll see it come back to you. Ask yourself "How can I add value to them?" Whether it's introducing them to other clients or business folks, if you give first, you start creating a virtuous cycle and that takes on a life of its own. Eventually, people make themselves known, discovering who is more transactional and who can give in other ways."

    Finding opportunities to give to others is rejuvenating; you just need to look for the right platforms to give back. When it comes from a spirit not driven by desire (and people can tell when you genuinely care about them and when you don't), the universe brings it back to you in some form or fashion.

    "The biggest thing is to reflect on who you are and what you bring to the table to guide how you develop yourself and how you can be supportive of people in different positions," Joe explained. "If you focus in on knowing yourself, you'll be able to forge relationships with people because you'll know how to interact with them in a way that makes you happy. And if people see you happy, that acts as a magnet."

    P.S.: Damien Atkins (who was placed by Major, Lindsey & Africa as General Counsel at Panasonic Corporation of North America), will be honored as Corporate Counsel of the Year at this year's Metropolitan Black Bar Association ("MBBA") Gala in New York City on May 19, 2017. Joe Drayton will be honored as Private Practitioner of the Year at the same event. For more information on this year's honorees and to purchase tickets to the MBBA Gala, visit

  • Wednesday, March 22, 2017 11:04 PM | Anonymous member

    I was just rereading an excellent article by my company's founder, Bob Major, entitled,"Why Didn't I Get a Job Interview? I'm the Perfect Fit." I love Bob's writing. He always keeps it 100% real and is one of my role models for writing about the in-house recruiting world. For my "In the House" column this month, I want to do a deeper dive on this section in Bob's article:

    Clients often give priority to locals and those with industry experience.

    The flood of applicants for each search means clients have the luxury of picking and choosing as they please. It's Economics 101. Knowing theirs is a buyers' market, clients have come to prioritize those candidates who don't require relocation, as well as those whose industry experience aligns with their own. As to relocation, it's not about paying a moving van several thousand dollars to transport household goods, although everyone—companies, too—likes to save money. It's mainly about risk.

    Clients understandably hate to invest months in recruiting someone, only to have that person not "take root" in their new locale. Whether it's the grandparents missing the kids, or the spouse who hates the weather or the new neighbors, relocations entail risk. Clients also draw a bit of comfort from hiring locally since they feel that references are more easily checked with greater reliability; they usually know someone at the company where the candidate has worked. This is especially true in highly networked places like the tech industries in Silicon Valley, Boston or Seattle, and the energy industry in Houston, Calgary or Denver. Even when a non-local candidate makes a slate presented to a client, those candidates who are local and have industry-specific experience often secure the first interviews. And, if the headhunter has done their job in presenting candidates who are all first-rate, the client will often hire from these initial people who are advantaged by interviewing first.

    I want to focus on the "priority to locals." Not being a local candidate can be a tough hurdle for in-house counsel. (I am not referring so much here to GC candidates for big, public company GC searches, where companies often just want the best athlete regardless of location — though being a local can definitely give you an edge.) As with many hurdles, however, you CAN leap it. I have a few thoughts on how:

    1.  Understand that it is generally NOT (just) about relocation costs.  Offering to pay your own relocation costs is probably not going to help. As Bob stated, there are a lot of good, practical reasons why companies are wary of relocating people. While everyone likes to save money if they can, frankly, any company that can't or won't afford to spring for a moving van is probably not one that has a lot of long-term, upward potential for you. Concerns regarding whether a candidate truly has sufficient ties and commitments to a location are REAL. Companies have been burned many times before by people in Florida swearing that they are up for a harsh, Chicago winter, only to flee after one bad snowstorm (after another, after another, after another…). And recruiting firms have been burned when the placed candidate decided to decamp during the guarantee period of the recruiting agreement. Spouses have put their foot down at the last minute after a long interviewing process and said, "I am NOT moving there. Period." Relocated candidates often are perceived as not having their heads in the game on day one. Instead, they are worrying about Timmy's first day at a new school, the arrival of the cable guy, or where the grocery store is. There are a lot of hard and soft costs involved in recruiting and onboarding high-level candidates, especially long distance ones. Why take the risk if an ideal (or, frankly, good enough) candidate is already across the street? A hometown candidate can be fully vetted in advance through local connections and won’t be distracted by the personal transition. That candidate may also bring valuable local relationships, knowledge of the company, and ties to existing team members, opposing counsel, local judiciary, outside counsel, vendors, local politics and customs. If you are an extraordinary candidate for a unique (e.g., FIFRA lawyer) or very important (e.g., GC of a Fortune 500) position, a company will be prepared to risk it all. But if you are not, understand why they will not.

    2.  Be specific in your targeting of different geographic areas.  It's definitely good to be open and flexible to any great, career-advancing in-house opportunity nationwide. Indeed, I often liken being an in-house attorney seeking career advancement to being an "Army Brat"— there are likely a few moves in your future from different companies to different locations as you make your way up the ladder. There is a difference, however, between being open to any potential location and actually focusing your job search and targeting your networking on a few specific locations that make sense for you. You can't effectively network everywhere. You can't convince every employer that you have strong relationships, connections and commitments in EVERY location (and when you try that over and over in applying to different jobs via the same search firm "I've always loved Des Moines! Santa Barbara means everything to me! I'm all about that Charlotte life!," we notice). While remaining open to other opportunities that may arise, give some structure to your search and increase your chances of success by focusing your job hunting strategy on locations where you have lived, worked, or attended school, where you or your spouse have family or close friends. Target three or four cities, and then focus on no more than 20 companies per city for which you could really be a good fit. Drill down by researching those areas and organizations and cultivating strategic relationships within them. Identify the best national executive and best local legal recruiters with whom to develop a relationship. You will actually be much more invested when you are focused, and you will be much more convincing to potential recruiters, connectors, and employers.

    3.  Get on the road!  The best way to beat a competing local candidate (all other things being equal) is to actually become a local candidate. Yes, some people quit their jobs and actually move to the area where they want to live. Certainly, that shows commitment, and having a local address on your resume is an advantage. Unless you are independently wealthy, however, quitting a job before you have another one is pretty financially risky—the length of a job search is unpredictable and time never passes by so quickly as when you are watching your bank account balance dwindle. And the "Laws of Recruiting Attraction" (a theory to be written more about another day) state that companies are more attracted to candidates who are already employed—they appear less attainable and more desirable. Plus, the longer you are unemployed, the more desperate you will start to seem – consciously or not. This is a turnoff to connectors, employers and recruiters. And while you aren't working, your skills are (at least perceived to be) getting rusty. So, the next best thing to quitting and relocating is to demonstrate your commitment to your desired market as much as possible by actually visiting that market whenever you can.

    Identify a large "tent pole" industry event in the city that you can attend (and ideally speak at) which will give you the opportunity to meet and reconnect with as many relevant local contacts as possible. Supplement this by scheduling individual meetings around the tent pole event. Use already planned personal trips as an opportunity to do a little professional networking. If you attended law school in your desired city, the career and alumni offices can be a great resource no matter how many years you've been out of school – and local alumni events are a great networking avenue. Sitting down face-to-face to express interest in living and working in a community – making the trip on your own time and on your own dime – encourages your local contacts there to share insider information with you about the state of the market, the important people to know, the important organizations to be involved in, the companies that are hiring or laying off, the companies with good reputations and the ones with not-so-good reputations, even what the hottest restaurants are. Knowledge and relationships are key to every job search, and not only will this information help you learn about more opportunities, when you do get an interview, you'll be able to impress your interviewer by name dropping like a native.

    4.  Get on the ‘net!  When you aren't physically on the road visiting your desired locations, remain virtually connected. Follow local news and companies in which you are interested on social media. Subscribe to local business journals that will provide you with valuable, real-time information that you can act upon via phone and email. Don't just focus on the obvious — job postings and articles about companies' hiring plans — but look for articles about companies' expansion plans, record-breaking profits, headquarters relocation to the area, new product lines, FDA approvals. All indicate that there could be a need for new in-house counsel. Connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., with as many local contacts as possible and join relevant online groups so you can stay abreast of local news via their postings—and join in the conversations where you can intelligently add value. Sites like and can send you location specific job listings on a daily basis. You won't want to apply to them all, but reviewing them will add to your knowledge of the local market. Join local bar and other professional associations (I was a member of the Chicago Bar Association before I actually moved to Chicago) and be as active as you can—and put those associations on your resume and LinkedIn profile.

    Now, with all that said, I need to offer a word of caution: Someone might suggest that you use a local friend or relative's address on your resume and pretend you live there. Don't! If and when it comes to light that you misled the employer, not only will you likely lose your job opportunity or job, you will have perhaps irreparably damaged your reputation at the company, in the market, and with the recruiting firm involved (if there is one). And remember, counselor, we have ethical rules to consider that the average job hunter who decides to "fudge" something on his or her resume doesn't.

    Relocating is not impossible! People have been relocating for jobs for as long as there have been jobs. You CAN do this, if you are strategic and really set your mind to it. Now, hit the road!

  • Thursday, February 16, 2017 9:59 PM | Anonymous member

    Michael Jordan is an outstanding athlete; Beyoncé sings like an angel; Serena Williams plays tennis better than any other woman in the world. While graced with talent and unique abilities, all of these stars got to where they are with the help of a good coach.

    So why shouldn't the same apply for lawyers? Actually, it does. Allow me to introduce you to the world of executive coaching.

    Now you might be thinking something along the lines of “I am an outstanding lawyer who is rising up the ranks according to my "plan", why would I need a coach? Obviously, I can do this myself.” Well, no one ever climbed a mountain alone. Have you heard of Tenzing Norgay? As Executive and Business Development Coach Stewart Hirsch has said, “Most people can be successful without coaching, but they are more successful with coaching.”

    But let me back up. To truly understand the benefits of coaching, you need to understand what executive coaching really is. “There are lots of different kinds of coaching depending on your objectives and what you are trying to accomplish,” says Tasneem Goodman, partner at Akina. “You need to consider your objectives for your coaching and what you want to accomplish and then find a coach that fits based on that.”

    Tasneem focuses on business development and sales in her coaching practice, which she considers more akin to personalized training rather than traditional executive coaching. Paula Edgar is more of a "traditional" coach, explaining that she generally works with “someone who is looking to progress in the place he or she is now—or to progress up and move on—and is looking for a partner in the process.” She is there to act as a neutral sounding board and help her clients examine where they are and where they want to be. She is not a therapist or a consultant. She is there to ask questions and suggest strategies that will help a client focus and start down a path toward the future.

    If you are content with your career path, with the status quo, you can stop reading this article, but I suspect that you have a desire to grow as a professional even if you are in your dream job. A coach can help with that on a variety of levels. “It’s an incredible resource. I’ve engaged coaches at least three different times in my career. I look at my career as a work in progress and like to utilize coaching for different reasons,” explains Verona Dorch, executive vice president, chief legal officer and government affairs of Peabody Energy. “The first time I used a coach was for career coaching before I became a GC. I was trying to think through where I wanted to go with my career and what the next two to three years looked like. In another instance, I received business coaching. I completed a 360-review first and discussed the results with the coach. Then together, we worked through any areas for improvement or growth. Finally, there was transition coaching, which I did in the first 90 days in the GC role. I worked with a coach who helped with the transition, setting goals for both me and the company.”

    Verona's company sponsored two of the types of coaching she engaged in. Sometimes your company will suggest, encourage or mandate coaching, which I’m sure raises more questions in your mind. For starters, this does not mean your company thinks you aren't fit for your role. (That's another article for another day.) Most good coaches won't get involved in company politics. As Paula Edgar put it, “It’s your coaching relationship, funded by someone else. If the company expects the coach to report back, that's a big red flag.”

    Coaches operate under the strictest confidentiality. “We are pretty clear with our clients—both the individual and firm leadership—that we generally find that it is essential that a coaching relationship is best when built on intimacy and trust,” explains Tasneem Goodman. “In order to build that foundation, we have to have some level of confidentiality and a cone of silence. We understand the firm will want some visibility into what is working and how the firm can support the process, so we lay ground rules. We keep the specifics of coaching private and make it clear that at the same time we have a responsibility to give leadership visibility into the general trajectory of any coachee, so we will share progress updates. But the specifics of the individual relationship or situations/circumstances are kept quiet.”

    And even if your company is calling the shots—and paying the bill—you can still have your choice of coaches. In some cases, the company will simply let you choose; in others, they will pick the firm and let you select someone from that group. Verona Dorch was told a firm to use, but was able to select the individual coach, "Someone in the coaching firm recommended a variety of coaches based on a discussion with me about what I wanted. I then picked three people and interviewed them. You should never do coaching with someone you haven't picked."

    Now, not all coaches are created equal: Some are certified, some are not; some have practiced law, some have not. These are all things you should consider when you decide to take the leap and work with a coach. But the single most important thing is that “you have a good relationship, a synergy, that you feel like you trust this person and this coach gets who you are and where you are,” says Miriam Frank, vice president, partner and leader of the Legal Talent Management Consulting team for Major, Lindsey & Africa.

    "When looking for someone to fill a job, you want someone with the right skills, experience and fit. Similarly, when seeking a coach, it's important to choose someone with relevant experience who can help you work through your challenges and with the ability to understand you. Chemistry is important, too. You are not likely to open up and reveal yourself and your concerns to someone you are not comfortable with," echoes Stewart Hirsch.

    It's true that a stigma exists so much so that lawyers, in particular, cringe at the mere mention of executive coaching. Why? We must get over the notion that others will think we are broken or that our bosses are trying to find our Achilles' heel. We must stop saying “executive coaching” in hushed voices like it’s a dirty word or unspeakable curse. It’s time to open our eyes—and minds—to the real possibilities that exist when working with an executive coach. As Miriam Frank put it, “The most powerful learning comes from finding it yourself. The coach's job is to listen and ask powerful questions and then hold the coachee accountable, not to come up with the answers for them. If you are looking for a script on how this is going to play out, you are probably not going to get what you want out of coaching.”

  • Monday, January 23, 2017 6:50 PM | Anonymous member

    Happy New Year, in-house counsel friends! I hope that you have had enjoyed restful, fun-filled holidays and are as excited as I am about the professional challenges and opportunities ahead in 2017. Rather than a normal column of my own opinions, I thought I might share words of advice and inspiration from some of my general counsel friends with you this month to guide you in the new year:

    "The New Year is a great time to recommit yourself to simple yet important goals. A goal my team and I try to stay focused on throughout the year is to "Do What You Say You Are Going To Do - When You Say You Are Going To Do It!" If you keep strategic priorities (yours and your clients') at the center of everything you do, this can be easy to achieve. If you let yourself get distracted by work that is not important to strategic objectives this can be very challenging."

    Jodi J. Caro, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Ulta Beauty

    "There are some rough waters ahead so be prepared. Have business continuity and crisis communications plans up-to-date, handy and ready."

    Oscar E. Romero, General Counsel & Secretary - CFNA, Bridgestone Americas

    "Embrace disruption as a path to creative inspiration!"

    Sloane Perras, Chief Legal Officer, The Krystal Company

    "It's all about the relationship, truly it is. The people you help, coach, mentor, confide in or seek assistance from will form a strong web that will support you when you need it. I have just found myself back in New York after a 16-year hiatus, and I am humbled by all of the "old" friends and colleagues who have reached out to welcome me home and to offer insights and assistance. I am relying on that wonderful web and plan to expand it further and to link it to other webs so that I can help others."

    Elisa D. Garcia, Chief Legal Officer, Macy's, Inc.

    "Even if you are a specialist and only work in a targeted area of your company take the time and initiative to learn how the business as a whole makes money and how it funds its operations and look for the opportunity to do a project outside your comfort area."

    Robert S. Lavet, General Counsel, Social Finance, Inc.

    "Explore alternative fee arrangements and how they can help you meet your legal budget goals. While they may not yet be the predominant fee arrangement, alternative fees (fixed fees, fees-per-stage, etc.) are becoming more commonplace, and it's worth opening up the discussion with your law firms."

    Alice L. Geene, General Counsel, Rewards Network

    "Depending on your focus, I enjoy the start of a new year as an opportunity to meet with my legal team and say "in one year from now what are three things we want to have accomplished?" They have to be tangible deliverables that we can provide to the business. It may just be as simple as formally evaluate our outside counsel and provide feedback to improve our relationships, or time-consuming as developing a new contracting playbook for the sales team. These three serve as our guidepost for where we should be spending our time in 2017. When in doubt, look at the big 3."

    Lea Ann King, General Counsel, Toyota Material Handling USA, Inc.

    "Challenge yourself to make an investment in your business teams, and they will surely make an investment in you. You will know that your efforts were successful when you are viewed as a business person that happens to be a lawyer – and not - a lawyer that happens to be working in a business."

    Brandon B. Smith, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Tenneco Inc.

    "Love what you do and make sure it aligns with your purpose in life! After that, seek to learn as much as you can, so you can master your skill set! Always remember, you are at your best, when you are being exactly who you are! Be You and Be Purposeful!"

    Angelique Strong Marks, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, MAHLE Industries, Incorporated

    My own overarching advice to you this year is to invest in yourself and your career. Take the time to think and be strategic about your career path and what you want to accomplish instead of just reacting to what happens to you. Assess the resources at your disposal and determine how you can begin to use or better utilize them to help you achieve what you want to achieve in 2017 and beyond.

    One of these potential resources is an executive coach. Do you have one? Do you need one? How can an executive coach help you at this stage of your career and how do you find one? I'll be doing a deep dive on this topic in next month's column. Until then, stay warm, stay focused, "be you and be prosperous"!

  • Friday, October 21, 2016 6:38 PM | Anonymous member


    In the House is launching a new column focused on the career issues facing in-house counsel. We’ve dubbed it “Real Talk,” because our goal is to give in-house lawyers straightforward and practical advice about their career paths. Our columnist is Sonya Som, a Major, Lindsey & Africa partner who is an expert on career development issues for in-house lawyers. In this installment, she introduces herself and discusses the issues that she will focus on.


    Greetings, In-House Counsel Friends!  My name is Sonya Som. I am a former law firm partner who is now a member of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s team of general counsel and in-house counsel executive search consultants (also known as recruiters or headhunters) based in Chicago. I am primarily responsible for candidate career coaching, business development, marketing and general networking and relationship-building activities on behalf of my team at Major, Lindsey & Africa.

    I am so pleased to have been asked to write a regular column for In the House! I am excited to share insights on career development for in-house lawyers based on my six-plus years of experience “behind the curtain” and to provide access to insights from career coaches, GCs, fellow recruiters and other professional connections in my network who can provide valuable advice.

    Those of you with whom I have had the pleasure of speaking, who have seen me present on panels or who have read my previous articles know that I can be counted on to “keep it 100” by providing real talk about how I’ve seen in-house counsel successfully (or unsuccessfully) navigate their careers.

    Major, Lindsey & Africa’s in-house recruiters meet with a huge number of talented mid- and senior-level candidates in the course of completing searches on behalf of our clients. Although only one candidate can get any particular job, we genuinely want candidates to do well in every search process, impress our clients, make themselves and us look good, get great jobs (through us or otherwise) and forge terrific careers. So we welcome the opportunity to provide information and resources that will help us help attorney candidates and help them help themselves.

    This column will focus very heavily on the importance of developing emotional intelligence and cultivating relationships in your in-house career. While hard work, relevant experience and intelligence are incredibly important, these are the assumed, minimum barriers for consideration for any opportunity. EQ skills, gravitas, executive presence, business acumen and relationship-building abilities are among the qualifications that you will frequently hear recruiters and clients cite as the tie-breakers between two in-house attorney candidates.

    In my job, I’m primarily responsible for strategizing and leading networking, business development and marketing initiatives for our In-House Practice Group team throughout the Midwest. I focus on sourcing in-house counsel search opportunities for attorneys at all levels — from junior counsel to general counsel — in corporate legal departments in a wide range of industries and by developing and maintaining relationships with general counsel, human resource leaders and other C-Suite executives. I also provide career advice to attorneys and have been recognized as a thought leader regarding diversity in the legal profession nationwide.

    Before joining Major, Lindsey & Africa in 2010, I was a law firm partner, and I focused my legal practice on the representation of individual and business clients on a wide variety of labor and employment and immigration-related matters. In 2007, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin named me to its “40 Under 40” list, and I was included on the Lawyer of Color’s 2014 Midwest Region Hot List. I’ve also authored, co-authored and been interviewed for many articles on topics including diversity in the legal profession, networking, social media, personal branding, market trends and career strategies for lawyers, and I regularly speak on panels on these topics nationwide. And I maintain a prolific social media presence on Twitter (@sonyaoldssom) and LinkedIn (

    In my next column, I’ll address the buckets of critical professional relationships that I advise in-house counsel to develop and maintain throughout their careers.

Contact In The House

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