Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co. He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.
Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.
I recently wrote a column about picking good advisors (https://h20cooler.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/inside-perspective-dont-take-advice-from-a-serpent/). I suggested that when one expands their circle of advisors, there should be at least one and no more than three. A good friend and advisor of mine asked me why I chose three as the maximum number of advisors. I admit, I did not have a good answer, so I thought about it a bit more.
The point is to choose excellent advisors, not an “excellent” number of advisors. I have two or three people with whom I consult regarding career management, one or two people regarding personal and family matters, two or three people who give me advice on college planning for my kids and several people (outside of retained counsel) with whom I can bounce legal questions off of and have general discussions about legal matters. Most of these people are very close to me and some provide input in more than one area.
When you seek advice, you need to discern good advice from bad advice. Discernment is an ongoing process, but most of the heavy lifting regarding career advice is done at the outset of your career when you need advisors the most. The conundrum is that the beginning of your career is when you are least equipped with skills of discernment. The solution is to start with people with whom you are already very close and know you can trust. If they are not knowledgeable on the topic about which you need advice, ask them for a referral. A close friend will refer you to the right person. Do not be afraid to ask for advice, no matter the stage of your career, your age, your level within the company or status in the community. Wise people seek wisdom. There will always be people who know less than you do and those who know more than you do. Even the President of the United States has a team of advisors.
In-house counsel are particularly well suited to give advice to less experienced attorneys. Generally, in-house lawyers have a broader scope of experience, having served in both the inside and firm worlds. The two worlds are very different, and just as firm experience is very valuable to have as an inside attorney, it is similarly valuable in the role of advisor. Inside lawyers have excellent business experience and insight that is very different than that of the firm lawyer, especially a young firm lawyer. Advice seekers are well advised to seek out an inside lawyer for career advice because of the breadth of their experience. But, do not necessarily limit yourself to in-house lawyers because firm lawyers are very knowledgeable people too!
We must all be willing to serve in the role of advisor. As advisors, we must ensure that we give good advice. Giving good advice implies the wisdom to know what we don’t know and then, acting with an appropriate measure of humility, making a referral to someone who can help the advice seeker.
As an advice seeker, once you choose your advisors, listen to them.
Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice.