9 Tips for Future-Proofing Your Career

  • March 13, 2020
  • Argiro Kotsalis

9 Tips for Future-Proofing Your Career

If one of the certainties of life is that we don’t know what the future holds, how can we prepare for it? As in-house counsel, we may not be in danger of being replaced by automation or robots, but we nonetheless face a future full of new challenges. Future-proofing your career means doing what you can today to ensure that you are resilient and have the skills to face change in the future. Here are my top tips.

  1. Be proactive. Change can arrive in a variety of forms. You might need to dramatically evolve in your current role, switch jobs or change industries. Agility will be key. One way to prepare is to develop skills and areas of knowledge that will be in demand and transferable between industries. Complacency is the enemy. Proactively seek out opportunities to grow, and be vigilant and alive to what’s happening around you so you don’t get passed by.
  1. Expand your horizons. Legal departments tend to lie “across” the organizational structures of most companies, working directly with all other departments. One advantage is that we are exposed to the full spectrum of activity across the business and can help identify and develop a broad range of new areas or initiatives. However, we are also sometimes described as “a mile wide and an inch deep”—therein lies the danger. Don’t be afraid to dive more deeply into areas outside of your comfort zone.

    My current role was my first in-house position, and on the first day, I learned it included Privacy Officer—an area in which I barely had a passing knowledge. One of my first priorities was climbing that learning curve as quickly as possible. After mastering the essentials, I worked with external counsel to build out a robust privacy management program that continually evolves to meet the needs of our organization. As our role in the area of biometrics continues to grow, I feel much better equipped after all this work to oversee how we navigate privacy issues in that emerging field.

    Whether an area is simply new to you or whether it’s more cutting edge, don’t be afraid to dive in and learn everything you can. It will serve you well in the long run.
  1. Put the “G” in ESG. One area that has earned its own heading is governance. Along with environmental and social factors, governance is one of the pillars of sustainability, and sustainability reporting has become one of the most significant developments in the corporate world—and shows no sign of waning. Most GCs also have some or all responsibility for corporate governance and overseeing the activities of the Board of Directors. They can ensure good governance practices and sustainability are baked into the processes and deliberations of the Board.

    Even if your role does not include Governance Officer or Corporate Secretary, you can look for opportunities to support the Board; participate in reporting and compliance; draft corporate policies, including the code of ethics and anti-bribery and anti-corruption policies; opine on labour and employment practices, sustainable procurement or conflicts of interest; or provide training to employees on any of these topics.
  1. Be strategic in every sense of the word. If you are an executive, you likely already have a role in formulating the strategic direction of the company. If you have a governance portfolio, you have a role in how the Board sets the strategic plan and exercises its strategic oversight. Beyond the (hopefully) omnipresent strategic plan, are you yourself strategic? Do you “see the chess board” when untangling complex issues, conducting challenging negotiations or creating plans to meet objectives? Do you bring highly developed critical thinking skills to the table? Do you possess the political acuity required to read the room, perceive nuances and navigate delicate situations?
  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of soft skills. Every type of lawyer needs strong communication skills; yet, we seem to function along a broad spectrum in this area. Being able to effectively communicate complex legal issues to people who don’t have the same training or experience as you is essential to successfully practicing in-house. Effectively managing yourself and the people on your team is of utmost importance, as are collaboration, teamwork, innovation, empathy and compassion.
  1. Build a support network. Whether it’s through social media, a professional or industry organization or charitable work, building relationships is vital to having resiliency when facing challenges or changes in your career path. Your network may lead you to amazing opportunities or offer a helping hand when you need support. When faced with a dilemma at work, do you have people in your life whom you call on, whose advice you trust, whom you trust to give you sage advice and keep your situation confidential? Whether you call them mentors, advisors or friends, facing the future with these valuable supports gives you an enormous advantage.
  1. Stay up to date. Invest in your continuing education. Stay up to date in your areas of law, and use conferences and courses to gain new skills and insights. These are also great venues for building relationships and expanding your network. Also, don’t be a luddite—stay on top of the latest in technology. Use it to improve your efficiency and communicate effectively with your team and across your organization.
  1. Track your successes and accomplishments. This should already be happening because you’re tracking your objectives in a development plan, and then reporting against them annually, right? Not keeping track of your successes and accomplishments means you’re probably not self-managing your own career the way you should be, and you are not prepared to jump on a new opportunity that comes your way.
  1. Become a trusted adviser. Regardless of whether you have a seat at the executive table, developing a comprehensive understanding of your company and industry is table stakes for functioning effectively as in-house counsel. Without that, your ability to identify risks and come up with practical, business-minded ways to mitigate them is severely hampered. Then, to achieve the status of “trusted adviser,” go further. Take a long-term view and consider your organization’s strategic objectives and best interests when giving any advice. Epitomize strong business ethics and integrity. Be collaborative and build trust within your team and with those you are advising, both upstream and downstream.

    Being a trusted adviser is the overarching goal—it calls on many of the skills and actions outlined above. Having this professional reputation will hold you in good stead when facing challenges down the road or seeking out new adventures.

Argiro Kotsalis is Vice President, Legal & Chief Governance Officer at the Vancouver Airport Authority. She joined the Airport Authority in October 2015 and is responsible for the legal, compliance and insurance portfolios. She also acts as conflict of interest officer, privacy officer and Corporate Secretary to the Board of Directors. Connect with her on LinkedIn.