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From time to time, everyone needs career guidance. The Minority Corporate Counsel Association seeks to empower in-house counsel to better manage their careers and pursue their professional objectives, particularly in-house women. Based in Washington, the MCCA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association that focuses exclusively on diversity issues in corporate law departments and law firms. In addition to publishing a magazine and offering educational programs, the MCCA has developed a body of knowledge on diversity best practices and the changing demographics within the in-house community. Over the last decade or so, corporate law departments have evolved toward being far more integrated with the business. Increasingly, law departments are not “backwater” service functions but critical partners in all business decisions. The most successful in-house lawyers have made the transition from lawyer to business partner. The general counsel who participated in the MCCA’s most recently released study described their role as partnering with the business functions and facilitating the attainment of business goals within the boundaries of the law. For many attorneys who came from law firms, this represented a major shift from being the content expert (providing “pure” legal advice) to articulating the legal context (trade-offs and risks) for making particular business decisions. The demographics of the position have changed too, but much more rapidly. According to the MCCA’s Annual Survey of Fortune 500 General Counsel, women were 8.4 percent of all Fortune 500 general counsel in 2000, and 12.4 percent in 2002. This rate of increase � a 50 percent jump in two years � is unprecedented! And in just three years, the number of people of color who lead Fortune 500 law departments more than doubled � going from 11 to 26 between 1999 and 2002. As of August 2003, the general counsel of color now number 33, three times the 1999 level. For those who like statistics, this means that on a combined basis, about 20 percent of all Fortune 500 general counsel do not fit the historical white male model. Consider that 90 percent of the women and people of color were appointed general counsel only within the past five or six years! In December 2001, the American Corporate Counsel Association published the first national demographic survey of roughly 65,000 attorneys working in corporate law departments. The demographic profile of the ACCA survey is consistent with the gender and race profile of the profession � roughly 30 percent of in-house attorneys are women and 12.5 percent are people of color. However, the ACCA survey indicated that women and minority attorneys were disproportionately represented in lower-level staff attorney positions. A 2001 study by Catalyst Inc., “Women in Law: Making the Case,” found that women working in-house had longer tenure yet lower titles than their male colleagues. The MCCA has documented many of the career obstacles that women and people of color have experienced in corporate law departments, but solutions were harder to come by. Given the mixed progress found for both women and minorities in corporate law departments, the MCCA retained Catalyst, a resource for women business executives, to help come up with some solutions to career obstacles. Catalyst conducted focus groups and a series of interviews with leading general counsel in several geographic areas. The MCCA combined Catalyst’s findings with the results of two independent surveys of the views of Fortune 500 CEOs and general counsel. The result is “From Lawyer to Business Partner � Career Advancement in Corporate Law Departments,” a research report published by the MCCA under its multiyear research project titled “Creating Pathways to Diversity.”(r) A key finding of this report is that in order to develop the leadership currency required to advance, in-house lawyers must be willing t • Take risks.Risk taking forces us to rely upon inner strengths, learn new skills, and broaden experiences. Whether it’s taking stretch assignments or a new role in an unfamiliar area of the law or business, learning to work outside of your comfort zone is a key to leadership. No one ascends to the top by always playing it safe. • Take credit.Recognition of your personal contributions is critical to visibility within the department and is a key to advancement. For many women, standing in the spotlight to receive praise for their contributions is a behavior that is especially uncomfortable. For those who shy away from recognition, preferring instead to let their team take credit (even for their own personal contributions), the MCCA says, Get over it.Within the cultural norms of their departments, women must learn how to toot their own horns. • Take stock.Think about what’s important to you, how you define yourself and success. Avoid being influenced by others’ definitions of success or else you may pursue it in ways that are out of step with who and what you are and end up feeling out of balance. Be clear about your wants and needs, your values, your priorities. Continually reassess and clarify your professional goals in relation to your personal needs, values, and priorities. Then go for it, without regret! For lawyers of color, an additional key finding was the important role that their parents had played as their first and perhaps most important mentors. Whether their parents had business backgrounds did not really matter. What mattered was that these lawyers had their parents to turn to in order to understand and deal with issues of race in society. Interestingly, none of the white women talked about having been similarly prepared by their parents regarding gender issues. In fact, many of the women reported feeling ill-prepared to address the challenges they encountered in the business world and that they were caught somewhat off-guard by their early brushes with gender stereotyping and discrimination. Based on these and other findings, the MCCA prepared a list of top 10 career recommendations for in-house counsel, particularly minorities and women: 1. Develop solid substantive legal ability and a reputation for being an outstanding lawyer. 2. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and shortcomings, and be clear about your personal and professional priorities. 3. Understand the business of your employer so that you can identify how you are able to fill a critical need, contribute additional value, and effectively communicate legal issues to nonlawyer business teams using “their language,” not legal jargon. 4. Be visible within your company and in your industry. Don’t be shy about discussing your contributions. Invest time getting to know your colleagues by developing your relationships with those in the law department, as well as the business units. 5. Don’t simply play it safe � take appropriate risks with a view to those that will enhance your skill set, demonstrate “out-of-the-box” approaches, and distinguish you as a leader. 6. Cultivate solid mentoring relationships with people who can help you guide your career and offer you sage advice. 7. Learn the art of effective time management, prioritizing, and delegating, in order to focus your time and resources on value-added work. 8. Develop solid support bases at work and at home to help you maintain a healthy work/life balance, one that is in keeping with your personal values. 9. Avoid letting others’ expectations define your definition of success, and don’t hesitate to shift your goals or priorities as your own needs and expectations evolve. 10. Develop leadership skills with a sensitivity to the fact that diversity can be a key asset to your organization. Cultivate your ability to manage across differences to build a high-performing team. Veta Richardson is executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association ( www.mcca.com). In-house counsel may request a free copy of “From Lawyer to Business Partner” by e-mailing Karen Hughes at [email protected].

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