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Counsel Corner: How to Transition from DeputyGC to General Counsel: 4 Tips for Career Growth

Creating a career plan to guide your journey to GC? In this actionable guide, top GCs share four key principles for future success. 


  • Team L Suite

Career & Brand Building

Our Counsel Corner series brings together the top legal minds from our community to discuss complex challenges that GCs face when growing their companies and navigating their careers. To get insights on how to become a general counsel, we sat down with 3 experts from the TechGC community: Gauri Manglik, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer at Clearbit, Shaheen Sheik-Sadhal, General Counsel at ONEHOPE Wine, and Matt Margolis, Head of Community at Lawtrades.

Are you early or mid-stage in your in-house legal career? If you see yourself someday having the title of general counsel at a high-growth tech company or venture capital firm, there are certain steps you can start taking today to set yourself up for future success.

In addition to good legal aptitude, you’ll need to build relationships with leadership, expand your network, and build other critical skills needed so that when the time comes, you’re ready to land – and succeed in – your first GC role.

Read below for more tips on how to become a general counsel that will help you as you navigate your career and get your first GC role.

Become Indispensable and Make Your Voice Heard

When you’re earlier in your legal career, you’re likely in the weeds, putting out fires and focusing on a very specific part of the business. However, GCs have to look at the much larger picture – focusing on all aspects of the business, across many departments – so you need to build these skills early by pushing yourself to learn as much about your business as possible.

“You want to put yourself in a position to be the person that people think “we trust her judgment because she knows what she’s talking about.” Make yourself extremely knowledgeable about the business and ask to be invited to every different type of meeting you can possibly get involved in. If you're in a company and you have a potential to become the GC in that company, you need to know everything about everything about that company, whether it’s internal product decisions or financing strategies with the venture world. Make yourself indispensable.” - Shaheen Sheik-Sadhal, General Counsel at ONEHOPE Wine.

By learning every aspect of the business, you’ll be able to develop the confidence needed to advise beyond your role and inform decisions at the leadership level, allowing you to set yourself up for a GC position within that company, or build the skills needed for when you make the transition into a GC role elsewhere.

“A big part of growing into the GC role is developing more confidence in yourself and your ideas because you’re doing your research and approaching decisions with the full knowledge of what’s happening across the company. When you start looking at things from a more macro view, you can start owning your space in the room with leadership, even if you aren’t part of the leadership team yet.” - Gauri Manglik, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer at Clearbit.

Be an Excellent Communicator and Build Relationships

A pivotal part of growing into the GC role is building up the communication skills necessary to develop relationships with key stakeholders in a high-growth company. Unlike a law firm setting, in a business, most of your communication will be done with people with no legal background. If you come from a firm, you can use the skills you developed there to communicate effectively with key business partners.

“The skills you learn from communicating with clients within a firm are extremely valuable as your move forward in your in-house career. For example, knowing how to send an email to a client that fully summarizes what's going on in a short, concise, way that’s understandable to the layperson. That’s an extremely valuable skill to build on as a Deputy GC or Associate GC. You should get really good summarizing what’s important for your C-Suite, Board of Directors, or anyone else in the business.” - Matt Margolis, Head of Community at Lawtrades.

Think of your business partners as internal clients; they’re people you need to communicate clearly with, in their language, in order to build strong relationships. Learning how to speak the lingo across departments like engineering, product, and marketing – as well as with leadership – will help you build empathy and develop trust with key stakeholders who can later help you position yourself as GC at your current business or elsewhere.

“Make sure you’re operating from a place of empathy so that you understand the concerns that other people on the team have so that you can actually support them. For example, if the CRO is concerned about a deal not closing that quarter, you should be able to communicate with them about how the legal team is working to get that finished. You also want to build relationships outside the tactical work relationships and find time to do check ins where you connect at a more personal level – this will help you build scaffolding so that when you do have to push back on something, you've built enough of a relationship where there’s a good amount of trust there. So instead of thinking “this is just legal being difficult or unreasonable,” they're actually able to listen to you and understand where you’re coming from. People are much more likely to accept feedback or input when they already have a good relationship with you.”- Gauri Manglik, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer at Clearbit.

“You need to build up your diplomacy skills. Your CEO and your c-suite need to be able to trust that you're going to elegantly navigate relations with board members, many of whom are also investors and shareholders, so the communications you send to them need to be extremely well-written while also protecting the interests of the company. Investors have their own concerns, and sometimes those aren’t completely aligned with the company, so honing your ability to juggle these relationships through effective communication will set you on the path to eventually become a general counsel.” - Shaheen Sheik-Sadhal, General Counsel at ONEHOPE Wine.

Additionally, you should be wise about spreading your time with different departments and business partners. Even though building a relationship with the CEO is important, you want to make sure everyone who has a seat at the table knows your value and can turn to you when a complex issue arises.

“You want to make sure that you're not just heavily relying on any one particular leadership position within the c-suite. Your attention should be dispersed so that you have a good connection with everybody. You want everyone to think of you as a trusted sounding board for business decisions.” - Shaheen Sheik-Sadhal, General Counsel at ONEHOPE Wine.

Cultivating these relationships will help you have the right people in the corner when you need them, whether it’s due to a tricky business decision or because you need to make the case for why you deserve the GC title.

Timing is Everything

As with every career transition, timing is everything when transitioning into a GC role. You might grow into the role within your own company, or have to make the jump to another one in order to become a general counsel. Suppose you’re looking to move upward within your own company. In that case, it’s important to build a close relationship with the existing GC (if there is one) so that you can make your career ambitions clear and get a pulse on where they see themselves in the future.

“Moving into the GC position within your current company is highly dependent on your relationship with the current GC and what their career plans are. How long have they been there and how long do they plan to stay? If they’re looking to move out, can they set you up as next in part as part of their succession plan? Sometimes people can unexpectedly fall into the GC position when something sudden happens, but that’s often just luck. If you’re working under a GC, you need to have a good enough relationship with them to know what their future plans are and how your career trajectory does – or doesn't – fit into those plans.” - Gauri Manglik, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer at Clearbit.

The big question you have to ask is: What does the hierarchy look like and who is the person at the top? If they’re comfortable in that position, you won't have upward mobility. When people move into the GC role with the same company, it’s often the case that the existing GC is transitioning into a COO role or other c-suite position.” - Matt Margolis, Head of Community at Lawtrades.

Even if your company isn’t in a position to promote you to GC just yet, you should take advantage of company growth and your experience by leveraging title changes within your org to show growth during future job searches or when the GC role becomes unexpectedly vacant at your existing company.

“I was recently speaking with someone who is an Associate General Counsel, but has the entire legal department reporting to her and she is the only person reporting to her GC. She reached out to me for advice on how to move into the GC role, and I told her she should leverage her current experience to get the Deputy GC title. It prepares you much better for eventually becoming GC, since making the transition from AGC to GC may seem like a really big jump from a hiring manager's perspective. While titles don’t really matter at many tech companies, they do when it comes to showing your career progression and trajectory, either within your company or when you move elsewhere.” - Gauri Manglik, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer at Clearbit.

Leverage Your Network

Your network is one of the most – if not the most – powerful tool for upward mobility in your career, and that’s especially true for lawyers at high-growth companies. You should always budget time to establish connections with your peers by attending industry events, taking advantage of alumni groups, and asking for introductions to GCs from your existing network.

“I initially worked with a lot of recruiters when looking for my GC role, but I actually ended up getting it through my network. It was early 2022 when the market was at a very different level: There were almost too many jobs and not enough people at the time, so I think that timing probably played in my favor. It really helped that I spread the word informally through my network that I was looking for my next role. My connections knew I wanted my next role to be the first lawyer at a company in a GC position. Eventually, someone reached out to tell me that they were connected to the CFO at a company looking for their first in-house lawyer, and they were able to provide me with a warm intro.” - Gauri Manglik, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer at Clearbit.

You should also use your personal branding toolkit to make yourself as visual as possible, whether that’s through social media or by speaking at events so that people become familiar with who you are as a legal professional and what your area of expertise is.

“Get on social media and make sure you’re constantly communicating who you are and what you’re good at to your network. It's vital to leverage your network early in your career – long before you’re thinking about making the transition to GC. Making yourself visible is extremely important, because there are many tech jobs out there are never posted. You want to be someone who's already top of mind to decision-makers when they’re just starting to consider hiring for the GC role.” Matt Margolis.

“There are ways you can also position yourself as a leader in a particular area that will help you stand out when trying to get that GC role. What’s your area of expertise? Whether it’s crypto, fintech, healthcare, or data privacy, you can highlight this by doing LinkedIn posts or speaking on panels at industry events. That will give a lot of faith to the founder, the CEO and the leadership team that you’re the right person to bring in as GC, because they’ve already seen you speaking about problems they’re trying to solve in their business.” - Gauri Manglik, General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer at Clearbit.


The path from a junior legal role to the position of general counsel is different from every in-house lawyer, but by keeping these tips in mind, you can set yourself up for success early in your legal career. When the time comes, you’ll have the skills, relations, and network needed to successfully land the role of GC, either at your current company or elsewhere.

Finally, don’t forget that no one goes into their first GC role knowing everything they need to know about their job – being a lawyer is a life-long learning process, so don’t let doubts about your level of expertise hold you back from pushing forward and trying to transition into a GC role.

“As a female GC, I always want to encourage other women to really go for it and seek out those GC positions and never feel like they aren’t qualified enough . You're never going to know everything you need to know as you step into that job, so put yourself out there and make the case for why you're the right person for the job.” - Shaheen Sheik-Sadhal, General Counsel at ONEHOPE Wine.

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