Feeling At Home In An In-House Career

In college I was overwhelmed by the wealth of career opportunities available to me, as well as the breadth of directions I could go in my work life. I had a double major in economics and Russian history and knew that without advanced degrees in either area, the knowledge I had acquired served little use in the working world. It was at that point I realized I had to pursue a higher education and define a career objective that correlated to further studies. I chose law.

The attorneys we saw on television, such as Perry Mason, inspired some of us to become lawyers. Others were fulfilling their parents' ambitions or dreams. Possibly some had role models who were lawyers, while others were enamored by the financial rewards of law. In short, one or more of these motivations may have shaped our decision to become lawyers.

While in law school, few of us thought of our career in the context of becoming a general counsel. Our focus was on one or more substantive areas of the law--most likely with a view to practice in a law firm setting. So how do those motivations mesh with the realities of our practice as senior in-house counsel?

To answer this question, it's important to recognize that the role of the general counsel has evolved over the past few years. We find ourselves more than ever acting as much a business adviser to senior management as a legal adviser.

With increasing budget constraints, we are being forced to market ourselves and our departments. We have to demonstrate that we add value to the company and its key objectives.

Because of the numerous responsibilities of senior counsel and our "captive clients'" expectations that we will promptly respond to e-mails, faxes and voice-mails, time management has become a real challenge and balancing act that wasn't as pressing a few years ago. We now find ourselves easily devoting as many hours to our work as our law firm counterparts.

For me, the practice of law has exceeded any of my early expectations or perceptions. As a result, what motivated me to become a lawyer is no longer as relevant as it might have been earlier in my career. In law school we learned to sharpen our analytical and communication skills. We learned to look at problems from different perspectives and think strategically.

We are now frequently called upon to brainstorm with senior management on problems of all sorts because of these skills. We often are asked to help find new opportunities to grow the business and to craft internal and external company policies that can yield a greater return for the investors or the company's owners.

While many of us aren't required to think in terms of billable hours, we are required to think in terms of overseeing a project to its timely completion. I would like to think that the competent and cost-conscious manner in which we handle an issue is in and of itself evidence of the value we bring to the corporation.

Having to market ourselves to the corporate client from time to time has,

I believe, provided us with a greater understanding and sensitivity to the process and the pressures of the sales force. It helps us relate to those who work everyday to market the company's products or services with bottom-line results as the measurement of

their success.

In short, when I was deciding whether to pursue law, in retrospect it would have been impossible to predict how challenging and fulfilling the practice of law could be--particularly from an in-house perspective.

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Roger Marks serves a dual role at H2O Plus Inc., the Chicago-based developer of skin-care products. He is both the president of the international division and senior vice president, general counsel and secretary. He has been with H2O Plus since 1992.

staff Writer

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