We’ve all heard that college doesn’t prepare new employees for the challenges of the real world and this is never more true than for new attorneys walking into the doors of a corporate legal department. Companies who can afford in-house legal counsel often have their own orientation programs and resources, but new attorneys who want to hit the ground running, so to speak, can use the following top starting tips that have served experienced attorneys well.

1. Get the Current Business Plan and Organizational Chart

While the new attorney may have done their homework to prepare for the interview, it’s now time to get an official and current business plan to understand what the company does, what its goals are, and what objectives it has for the future. The comprehensive organizational chart will help you understand how the company is set up, including:

  • Who reports to whom

  • How information within the company flows

  • Where the legal department fits into the picture

2. Arm Yourself with Company History and Culture

Before a new attorney gets involved with the legal and regulatory details that govern the company’s activities, it’s important to take a little time to learn about the history of the company and make an effort to discover the features of its culture. The latter can take more time, but so much of what goes on inside a company is not immediately obvious without a good understanding of both history and culture.

Arm yourself with these details ahead of time and save yourself confusion later.

3. Learn the Company’s Key Industry and Market

Again, before plowing into the contracts and policies, it’s important to understand the industry and market within which the company currently operates. This will give you a great deal of information about regulatory details that control the company’s decision making later. it will also help you understand the key legal and regulatory areas that affect the company prior to reviewing the contracts.

4. Review Proxy Statements and Annual Shareholder’s Reports

Once you understand the industry in which the company is operating, it helps to understand how the company is doing within that industry and that means reviewing the disclosures to shareholders and the investment community. If the company is subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), you should ask for the company’s 10-K, the proxy statements, and annual shareholders reports and read them carefully.

5. Review SEC Filings for the Last 2 Years

While much of the important information about the company you’ve already discovered in the documents you have already reviewed, the SEC filings will give you a good idea of the flow of events with respect to the company over the last two years. Now that you understand the industry, how the company operates within the industry, it helps to see how the company is doing within the industry and this is what you’ll learn with these documents.

6. Get All Publicly Released Info Regarding Products, Services, and Activities

Now that you know what’s been revealed to investors, it’s important to understand what has been conveyed to customers regarding the company products and/or services so you can be familiar with their story and the underlying technology.

It’s a good idea to note some questions so you can ask marketing and customer service department heads – those involved with preparing and distributing product and service information – later when you meet with them.

7. Review the Due Diligence Binder and Make Notes for Improvement

All of the review work done thus far puts you in a good position to review and note improvements for the company’s due diligence binder – the collection of all items the company will be asked to present when it is involved in a major transaction, such as a private offering. These documents provide a thorough view of the legal and operational infrastructure of any company and include:

  • Charter documents

  • Current contracts

  • Corporate licenses and permits

  • Policy statements

  • and more

If you notice items that are missing – or there is no binder – now is a great time to note that fact and get started gathering those documents.

8. Review Board of Director’s Meeting Minutes

The minutes of the board of director’s meetings – as well as those of any major committees of the board – will give you a valuable insider’s view into the concerns of current leadership and understand how the directors interact with each other and with senior executives. If there’s a problem already, you’ll know it with this step.

9. Have Drinks with Outside Counsel

Meeting the company’s outside auditors and law firms is often one of the first things new in-house attorneys are told to do, but these meetings are far more useful after you’ve done the groundwork laid out above. Ideally, these meetings are an opportunity for you to introduce yourself and get answers to questions you have about issues you may have already noticed as well as any accounting and legal issues you may have identified.

Before you attend these meetings, get a clear understanding of the relationship between the outside counsel and the company executives. Be aware of any long-standing personal and/or professional relationships as you encounter them.

10 Schedule Lunches with Key Department Heads

All of the work you’ve done to this point means you are in an excellent position to meet those who will be your internal clients. Now is a great time to set expectations with each of the company’s key departments. Introduce yourself then listen to their concerns and needs regarding in-house legal services.

While this list relies heavily on steeping yourself in all of the business and organizational lore available, the goal is to understand as much as possible prior to jumping the gun on specific legal matters. If there’s a crisis brewing your first day of work, that may outpace the groundwork outlined here, but try to step through the process as soon as you can.

About the author

Matt Faustman

Matt Faustman

Matt is the co-founder and CEO at UpCounsel. Matt believes in the power of online platforms to change antiquated ways of life and founded UpCounsel to make legal services efficiently accessible. He is responsible for our overall vision and growth of the UpCounsel platform. Before founding UpCounsel, Matt practiced as a startup and business attorney.

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