The legal industry is seeing an increasing number of women lawyers ditch traditional career paths, which for the most part have been limited to attorneys i) working at one legal employer their whole career; or ii) starting out at a law firm and then moving in-house at a corporation or within the public sector.
Tori Silas is one of these lawyers bucking the mainstream legal career journeys and instead, gaining deep experience across multiple organizations to earn her way to the top ranks of the legal profession. In February, she started as a law firm partner after gaining more than two decades of experience as an in-house lawyer, a law firm associate, and a technology consultant at one of the Big Four firms.
The Value of Moving from In-house Attorney to Law Firm Partner
Silas describes the value of her experience as an in-house attorney as learning “to move at the speed of business,” and this is what she plans to bring to the law firm environment as a partner in the venture capital and technology practice at Nelson Mullins, a law firm with 25 offices and more than 780 attorneys.
As a partner in this practice, she will be advising private equity firms and some of their portfolio technology companies on M&A and providing legal guidance to large corporations on negotiation and implementation of new innovative technologies in their business operations. Her years spent working in corporate legal departments have been valuable because it has allowed her to gain a breadth of transactional experience across industries and corporate functions. In addition, with more than a decade of in-house experience, she has become an expert in communicating complex legal issues to business leaders who do not have legal expertise. The value of this skill set will enable Silas to amass influence at her new law firm employer in a very short time.
Throughout Silas’s career, she has learned that the best ways to network is from a “360-degree approach,” by which she means “networking up, laterally, and down.” Her priority on managing up has been for two primary reasons: i) to develop trust as an adviser to the business leaders she has supported; and ii) to build relationships with career champions internally, which in some cases have turned out to be one in the same person.
Going Deep on Relationships — Silas has always emphasized her efforts to forge deep connections with a few people versus a volume of more shallow ones. “I would rather come away from a networking reception with five business cards and within five to six weeks having created the beginnings of a relationship with some or all of those folks,” Silas says. Indeed, she has found success using this method in fostering professional relationships with “career champions both within her organization and outside of her company.”
Devising Her Plan to Deliver Immediate Value When Returning to Private Practice — Because Silas is right in the middle of a career transition, moving from in-house to private practice, she admits that she started planning for her entry back into the law firm environment before she left her most recent in-house position, at Cox Enterprises. “I spent some time with some of our more senior leaders within Cox’s legal department across our divisions in my final weeks trying to understand what they believe to be valuable from outside counsel,” she explains.
To bring value to the law firm straight away, Silas plans to share that feedback, especially insight she gathered from senior leadership concerning pitches and business development. In addition, she intends on leveraging her agile in-house experience in the efficient delivery of legal services and imparting her knowledge for how to do this to her peers in the partnership.
Earning a Seat at the Tables of Power
At the Corporation — Working 10-plus years as an in-house attorney supporting a variety of corporate businesses and functions, Silas understands how to forge critical relationships with business leaders. To do this, her tried and true method was requesting — even if it was multiple times — that she be allowed to sit in on the regular meetings of the senior team of the business she was supporting. Then, she would do a lot of listening. Over time, this provided her with perspective and the confidence to make recommendations on legal and non-legal-related items at critical decision-making junctures, building her credibility among the senior leaders within the business.
At the Law Firm — Knowing that she will not have the luxury of spending hours in meetings with senior business leaders, her approach for earning a seat at the table as an outside counsel will differ. Initially, Silas plans to understand how the firm communicates with its clients and then ease her way into a regular rhythm of engaging with clients’ in-house legal teams whether there is a specific legal matter to discuss or not. “To become a trusted business advisor to a legal team, you have to understand the issues that the business is facing, the objectives that they’re trying to reach, and what the in-house legal team members are trying to support,” elaborates Silas.