How to develop an in-house mindset: Day One of the In-House Counsel Institute

By Stella Collet

As an international LL.M. student from France, with a focus on I.P. and Corporate Law, I volunteered to take notes for the 2021 In-House Counsel Institute. The first day’s theme was “How to Develop an In-House Mindset”, which proved to be a great overview of the skills needed to make the transition from law firm to in-house. I have worked for both law firms and in-house and have definitely struggled with the gap between law firm lawyering and in-house counseling. I always found the latter more demanding in terms of non-legal skills such as communication and obtaining my teams’ trust. I learned this struggle is common due to the lack of “in-house mindset” training. After participating in the Institute for a couple of days, I found a truly reliable guide which increased my knowledge and perspective. 

All the day’s speakers shared various tips necessary to thrive with confidence in an in-house position. Here’s a recap of some of the takeaways which I intend to incorporate into both my French practice and my future practice of U.S. law once I graduate in December and pass the California bar exam:

Breakfast with the GC’s
The day started with Dana Rao of Adobe, Niki Armstrong of Pure Storage, and Landon Edmond Klaviyo, all highly successful General Counsels or Chief Legal Officers, sharing their practical advice about how to succeed in an in-house career through a series of thoughtful questions asked by co-organizer Prof. Laura Norris. The panel dispensed tips on how to gain a teams’ trust, such as showing up in your non-legal teams’ meetings, and tayloring your language to your audience. They also suggested ways of inspiring the workforce of your company by communicating early with your teams about a project, and motivating teams with your support and ambition. One suggestion I found particularly useful was to set up virtual office hours on Zoom during the pandemic, thus reassuring colleagues they can still get your help and insight, just as before.

Writing Memos as an In-House Counsel
Following the breakfast, was a writing workshop session presented by Santa Clara Law Adjunct Professor Linsey Krolik (and Principal at Law Office of Linsey Krolik). Prof. Krolik shared a study that shows the average attention span when reading emails is 13.4 seconds. No wonder some of the speakers shared that during their transition to in-house counsel they received the dreaded “TLDR”  or “Too Long; Didn’t Read” response from their in-house clients or even their own managers. 

A sure way to avoid TLDR is to master the “B-BACE” model of “Business problem or goal; Bottom line, Ask/next step, Conclusion/recommendation and Explanation/options”. The participants were able to practice this method in small groups. Another helpful tip was to include lengthier analysis or citations as an appendix or attachment to your email or communication, so that business leaders can read it when they have more time. 

Leading and Navigating in a Distributed Workforce
Our morning continued with a brilliant panel composed of Andre Marais of Schwegman, Lundberg and Woessner, Molly Kocialski of the USPTO, and Renee Brown of Linkedin, and moderated by Sonya Sigler, which was a thoughtful discussion about remote work. The panel drew from years of remote work experience and offered practical tips on how to both build a cohesive and determined team through such means as organizing annual summit meetings especially with new recruits, and setting up effective performance agreements, including the consequences of not meeting expectations. The panel agreed that building a strong team is essential during a time where many workers fight loneliness and develop the inability to focus because of the stress of the pandemic. 

How to Build an Inclusive Culture and Diversity in Innovation
The Institute then welcomed Jeremiah Chan, Associate General Counsel and Head of Patents Licensing and Open Source at Facebook, who shared his insight on how to build both an inclusive culture and bring diversity to innovation. The presentation started with highlighting the sluggish pace of diversity in innovation, supported by data that it will take until 2092 to reach equality in gender and race. One important takeaway was how important it is to understand the causes of lack of diversity. He discussed the challenge of organizing a women-only patent harvesting session. Despite his team’s considerable outreach efforts, very few women actually showed up to the event because they didn’t have the time to attend. This caused the team to reevaluate their approach, including incorporating design thinking sessions facilitated by David Gross of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath (who shared some of his methodology in a subsequent session during the Institute) to better understand and empathize with women inventors and how to engage them in the inventing process. If you are interested in learning more about diversity in innovation, Jeremiah, HTLI and others are involved in organizing a conference  the week of July 26 to 29, entitled “Increasing Diversity in Innovation”.  

Congressional Efforts to Reign in “Big Tech” Through Antitrust Legislation: Will They Kill “The Golden Goose?
Santa Clara Law Dean Emeritus and Professor, Donald Polden, discussed the impact of antitrust legislation on the big four tech companies (Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon), updating us with important developments that occurred in the last few years and which continues to generate current news. Getting up to speed with such legislative changes are especially important for in-house counsels working in the tech industry.

What I truly enjoyed about the Institute was the focus on improving counseling skills as opposed to substantive law. Clear communication, building the trust of your teams, as well as exercising intellectual curiosity regarding your non-legal and business teams’ work is what differentiates in-house counseling from law firm lawyering. As a French legal counsel, the knowledge I acquired is equally relevant to my French legal career. 

Undoubtedly the most valuable lesson I learned from this day is to think beyond “pure legal counseling” to become a team player with whom colleagues from every department can rely upon and trust.  A successful in-house lawyer must become a trusted and integrated business partner central to a company’s success.  


Stella Collet is currently a candidate for an LL.M. in United States Law, with additional interests in Intellectual Property and Corporate Law at Santa Clara University School of Law.