Rachel Okolski currently serves as assistant general counsel and manager of legal resources at the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in Washington, DC. Her responsibilities include providing legal counsel to the organization, as well as managing the development of ACC’s legal resources and educational programs on topics related to compliance & ethics, corporate & securities law, and financial services.
It’s official – I’ve been in-house for a year now. And what a year it has been! My arrival as counsel coincided with the departure of Fred Krebs, ACC’s president of 20 years, and the instatement of Veta Richardson as President and CEO. Other changes during my inaugural year included: the initiation and implementation of the organization’s first 5-year strategic plan, the introduction of new corporate policies, a national conference, and an influx of new hires. As a generalist onboard during a time like this, to say that my first year’s work has been varied and abundant would be an understatement. The transition has been somewhat tumultuous, but, fortunately, in a way that foreshadows many good things to come for our organization’s employees and members alike.
If I had to single out the most valuable lesson I’ve learned during my first year in-house, without a doubt, it would be the importance of learning the business behind your organization. I know you’ve heard it before, maybe a hundred times; still, it’s absolutely true. Reaching out beyond the walls of your legal department in order to build relationships with and learn from colleagues will benefit you just as much as any of your past legal experience. Taking the time to figure out what it takes to keep your business running smoothly not only improves efficiency but also demonstrates to fellow employees that you are an approachable member of the legal team (hello, whistleblowers!). When was the last time you had lunch with someone in Marketing or I.T.? If you can’t recall, then it’s probably time to start revising your schedule.
I can’t begin to tell you how many members contact our legal department every week asking for advice and support while making the transition to a corporate legal department. As the liaison for the New to In-house Committee, I gladly outline ACC’s resources designed to foster a supportive network for those experiencing the challenges of serving as in-house counsel for the first time. My unique role in assisting others in their transitions has helped me in my own. It is my hope that others new to in-house practice will benefit from the 30 years of wisdom collected from those who preceded them, just as I have.
Are you new to in-house practice? ACC provides a plethora of resources, educational events, networking opportunities and advocacy initiatives that specifically target the new to in-house community. Learn more on the New to In-house Practice Portal at http://www.acc.com/ntih.