Kicking off our InView webinar series, our moderator Bríd Heffernan was joined by Rosanna Biggs (VP, GC and Head of People and Culture at Linkree) and David Lancelot (CLO and EVP of Advocacy at LawVu) to delve into some of the conventional - and not so conventional - career pathways open to in-house lawyers. In this article, they share the highlights of their own journeys to GC, the biggest lessons learned along the way, and how taking the road less traveled can lead to unexpected rewards.
If you missed our webinar the first time round, you can catch the full replay here.
How did we get here?
Taking what was initially a fairly traditional route into the legal world, Rosanna began her career in private practice in the UK. After several commercial secondments as a trainee, she knew that in-house was where she wanted to be. When a temporary relocation to Australia became permanent, she quickly found herself understimulated by the non-legal roles she took on in pursuit of work-life balance, and it wasn’t long before she returned to the fray as part of eBay’s legal team.
Having always wanted to work in a start-up, Rosanna eventually moved on to Linktree (an Australian unicorn-status tech scale-up) where she is now GC, VP and acting Head of People and Culture.
For David, the path to GC has been far less linear. Moving to London after law school, he fell straight into the deep end, becoming GC at a high-risk Fintech venture. He went on to undertake a brief stint in private practice before moving back in-house at QVC and Amazon. Eventually landing at eBay, David spent over a decade working his way up to VP and Global Head of Legal for the Classifieds division.
With his time in senior leadership roles consistently highlighting the absence of any overarching frameworks in place for in-house legal teams, David eventually turned his attention towards the task of transforming the in-house legal function - and found alignment with his mission at LawVu, where he is now Chief Legal Officer and EVP of Advocacy.
Lesson 1: Never stop learning
“Remaining curious is essential when you’re in such a general role - you can’t be an expert in everything.” - Rosanna
In any profession, it’s impossible to progress whilst sitting still. For both David and Rosanna, continuing education has been key not only to their own career development, but in supporting others coming up through the legal profession.
For Rosanna, working across multiple jurisdictions meant cross-qualification and a lot of upskilling over the years. However, nowadays, she finds the most value in learning materials which expand her leadership capabilities. Investing in “non-legal” skillsets is critical, she says, as the role of GC goes far beyond legal advice. “We are also there as critical thinkers - relied on to apply common sense and often be the adult in the room.”
As for David, he recalls the early days of the in-house learning curve as a baptism of fire. Without any established practice model, his only option was to figure it out for himself. When he first enrolled in an early thought leadership coaching program, the concept of legal ops was still unheard of - in-house legal teams were still very much disconnected, shrouded in mystery from the rest of the business.
“When I started out in-house, there were no role models - no guidance to tell me what my job should be”. - David
Things have come a long way since then - and both David and Rosanna place great value on passing on their experience to others, whether through lectures at leading institutions like the University of Florida Law School, community networks like InView, or by passing on books, articles and best practice tools. Some of their top recommendations include:
- Peter Connor - A New Vision for Corporate Lawyers
- Bjarne Tellmann - Building an Outstanding Legal Team: Battle-Tested Strategies from a General Counsel
- Mark Cohen - regular articles published in Forbes
- Richard Susskind - Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future
- Ed Catmull - Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
- Erin Meyer - The Culture Map; and No Rules Rules - Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention
- Ron Heifetz - The Practice of Adaptive Leadership
- Dr Bob Murray and Dr Alicia Fortinberry, Leading the Future: The Human Science of Law Firm Strategy and Leadership
- L. David Marquet - Turn the Ship Around!
- InView community events, content and magazine
- LawVu professional certification for in-house lawyers -The Connected Legal Function
Lesson 2: Leverage legal technology
Whatever our chosen sources of learning, it’s easy to forget that upskilling is something we can do in small ways every day, even if just for five minutes at a time. However, meaningful learning requires the headspace to explore new ideas - and that’s where technology comes in.
David’s core philosophy is that in-house lawyers should be “business people with legal skills” - drivers of strategy, not risk mitigators drafted in at the last minute. However, he knows that achieving this doesn't come easily. In order to earn a seat at the leadership table, legal must first provide visibility into what it does, and demonstrate its strategic value to the wider business.
Of course, it’s tough to unlock the bandwidth for high-level game planning when you’re bogged down in firefighting mode. Doing this successfully requires what David calls “a scalable engine room” - a sustainable, tech-supported system of work which removes unnecessary friction, allowing for a critical shift in your legal team from a reactive to a proactive posture.
This isn’t just a metaphor - and the difference is most visible in organizations in which some teams have implemented tech solutions and others are still lagging behind. As David observes, the latter group tend to have their heads physically “down” at their desks, while the former have their heads up, engaging in high-level leadership conversations and ideas.
Luckily for us, in-house legal teams now have access not only to best practice models of work, but to tools like consolidated tech stacks which are aimed at solving the specific challenges faced in-house. But it would be a mistake to think about technology simply as a way to get things done faster and more cheaply.
“Tech allows us to drive and generate data - which in turn demonstrates the value that the legal team brings to the business.” - Rosanna
As Rosanna points out, the real value of tech is in providing a foundation to allow us to focus on what really matters. For her, this means utilizing tools like LawVu, which enables her to quickly assess the risk and complexity of incoming work, inform resourcing, and implement self-service where appropriate - ultimately preventing legal from becoming a bottleneck. David agrees, adding that “lawyers can be an invaluable source of creativity and innovation” - and tech is an integral part of ensuring that this potential isn’t wasted.
Lesson 3: Think outside the box
If one message comes through loud and clear from David and Rosanna’s combined experiences, it’s that there is no longer a set career path when it comes to achieving great things as an in-house lawyer. As the legal function continues to transform, we no longer operate in a silo. A great GC can create impact far beyond legal operations, which is just one part of the wider infrastructure.
For Rosanna, one of the best ways that we can expand our capabilities as leaders is, to quote Ron Heifetz, “be a smart troublemaker” - in other words, to inspire progress through change management. As leaders, it’s part of our job to challenge entrenched ideas where they no longer serve our objectives. This can be a tough pill to swallow for the people behind those ideas - and this is where the psychology of loss aversion is key. By tapping into what people are really afraid to lose in the process of change, we can empathetically adapt our approach, communicate on a human level, and address the elephant in the room.
The potential for growth doesn’t end at GC, either. If you’re prepared for the learning curve, legal skills are highly transferable - and it doesn’t have to be a choice between one role or another. For Rosanna, who now wears dual hats at Linktree, her expansion into People and Culture was an organic process. Whilst the initial connection was forged through HR challenges that required a legal lens, it was ultimately driven by her passion for helping people to show up as their best selves - and she never stops thinking about ways to diversify further.
“When I think about career paths beyond GC, I think about how I could eventually expand into a COO or CEO role. We should be having more conversations about broadening our remit”. - Rosanna
But what if we feel “stuck” in our roles - either because we have already hit the GC ceiling, or because the positions we aspire to are already taken? From David’s perspective, the answer is in lateral thinking. Instead of feeling blocked from above, it’s well worth considering how we might “go around” obstacles instead. With a little confidence and the right mindset shift, there is little stopping us from stepping into entrepreneurship, making a sideways move, or even, one day, carving out new roles which reflect our transforming in-house environment.
Final words of advice
Looking back over their own journeys to GC, is there anything our panel would do differently if they had their time again? One of the biggest themes that comes through here is wellbeing. Rosanna reflects that she would focus far more on personal boundaries and balance, admitting that doing so later in her career has vastly improved her leadership and decision making.
This is also a subject close to David - he places a lot of value on providing the mentorship for others that he didn’t have early in his career. Advocating strongly for a departure from what he calls the “lethal” culture of hourly billing, he is also excited to see a move towards alternative fee models which place value and impact over volume of work.
“I would have loved more mentorship early in my career, which is why I put so much energy into that today. Structure and guidance is a great antidote to impostor syndrome.” - David
David and Rosanna’s final piece of advice to peers is to make the most of the wealth of technology, resources and wider networks that are now available to us as in-house legal professionals. By drawing on these tools - including the free online learning resources offered through the InView community - we can take back the headspace to begin solving problems upstream, expand our perspectives, and push the boundaries of what we can achieve.
Take the next step
Level up ahead of 2024 with InView’s free online learning resources carefully curated for you, your team, and your tech. Whether you have five minutes or five hours, start learning here. And be sure to register for episode 2 of our webinar series, The Path to GC and beyond with guest speaker, Sarah Binder (General Counsel at Lime and ex Pizza Hut).