Perhaps the most prevalent advice for anyone seeking career opportunities is the frequently touted adage, “It’s all about who you know.” A mantra of career coaches, mentors and teachers alike, the strength of a good network can’t be denied when attempting to augment and define or redefine your career path. This is the case as much for women in corporate law as it is for anyone.
Take for example Megan Belcher, vice president and chief employment counsel of ConAgra Foods and Transformative Leadership Award winner, who has witnessed first hand what building a strong network can do for empowering and connecting women on both sides of corporate law. In her role, she’s responsible not only for managing a team, but also interfacing with outside counsel when extra horsepower is needed internally.
Given the demands of today’s in-house legal teams, the opportunities for outside counsel to collect clients and build their book of work are more abundant than ever. Female leaders in inside counsel positions have a unique opportunity to “share the power” with other women in outside counsel roles. Belcher says they’re more likely to do that when they see a firm values their employees and is willing to invest in them.
Because Belcher reaped the benefits of advocacy and mentorship when she was just starting out in the legal field, one of her first priorities in establishing the help of an outside counsel is to make sure the firms she’s working with are providing opportunities for a diverse group of people, as well as opportunities for mentorship and development.
“Over the last five years we’ve really narrowed the number of firms we use to a number of key strategic firms. And as part of that process, really looked to firms who have exhibited their desire to empower and promote diversity on the teams that did our work, In addition to having the best in class technical expertise that we needed,” Belcher said.
But finding those firms in the first place is not always easy. Belcher underscored the importance of networking at every level of your career as a means to develop a robust network that can be counted on when help is needed. Critical to the development of that network are programs and events that connect women in law.
“I participated in 5/165 which in my mind is just a game changing program for women in the law and connecting women on both sides of the fence. That development program, as well as Women, Influence and Power in Law, which is coming up, have been pretty amazing and just a spectacular networking opportunity for both outside counsel and all the women in-house counsel that have participated,” Belcher said.
Project 5/165 promotes placement of women as Fortune 500 GCs, with the goal of raising the percentage of women in the GC role to 30 percent. The upcoming Women Influence in Power and Law is a conference that takes an in-depth look at the many challenges today’s female legal professionals face.
On why it’s so important for women to take advantage of programs that connect them to larger networks of women, Belcher explained: “I think it is always better for someone to have an advocate, you don’t always know the lay of the land, it’s always beneficial for someone to be giving you guidance and advice and mentorship, who has been down that road.” She continued, “I don’t think development happens unless people are actively making it happen so I’m big believer that building relationships and mentoring are the measures to business success for women on both sides, I think that is just kind of a key driver.”
Belcher will be joining the Women, Influence and Power in Law conference on Oct. 3 where she’ll be participating in a panel discussion on labor law. She will discuss current trends in the National Labor Relation Board’s agenda. The conference will not only be a place to catch up on current trends within the law, but also an opportunity for outside counsel to meet prospective clients.
Having a network of people to connect with on either sides of corporate law is essential to a competent practice. Finding those people is a lot easier with events that bring together career-minded individuals to network and learn together. Like the old adage says, “It’s really all about who you know.” You may just not have had an opportunity to meet them yet.
The Women, Influence & Power in Law conference offers an opportunity for unprecedented exchange with women outside counsel. The event runs from Oct. 2-4 and is being held at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.