Getting Good at Advice Giving: A General Counsel’s Thoughts

Getting Good at Advice Giving: A General Counsel’s Thoughts

Cecilia Ziniti

Apr 19, 2024

Advice Giving. It's 1990-something at a breakfast table in the Midwest. Kid me reads the Dear Abby advice column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I’d fold the page to see just the question, then pretend I was Abby and craft my own response. The memory came to me last week. A litigator friend is considering a new role in-house. She asked how to get good at giving advice. Here's what I told her:

👀 Observe Decision-makers. Attend key meetings, understand the questions raised, and grasp how choices are made at your company. What matters? What’s valued? This helps you align your advice with the company's goals and culture, making it more likely to be followed and more effective. A counterintuitive example: Meta addressed claims from a would-be whistleblower a few years ago. Meta’s PR statement said they “had never attended a decision-point meeting at the company." Meta’s statement highlighted their inexperience and questioned the depth of her perspective—if the person didn’t observe decisions as I advise here, did she understand what was at play?

🤖 Use AI. It wouldn’t be advice from me without this! Consult ChatGPT for a fresh perspective, to enhance an email, or for insights on tailoring advice for specific personalities or inclinations. Ask questions like “How would a corporate controller view this email?”, "What's missing?".

📰 Practice at low stakes. Reddit has an amazing 'Am I the Asshole?' forum, where people post their moral dilemmas, and the community weighs in. Family dynamics, work, covid, whatever. Cross-check your judgment against the whole internet. Or Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post. Hax's spidey skill: seeing the question behind the question. With very little info and a one-sided explanation — a great proxy for questions you get as a lawyer — she figures out that there’s something else going on with the letter writer. A hidden worry. A past slight they can’t let go. A secret crush. She does a live chat, where posters respond. Which brings me to ...

🔄 Follow Up. After you give advice, find out how the situation turned out and whether your advice helped. You get a satisfying denouement _and_ to improve. Example: I use, an app that facilitates making introductions. One of its most interesting features is that after you do an intro, the app asks the people you introduced to rate it. I’ve used those ratings to get better at connecting others, making my network deeper. Bonus: You’ll stand out for great client service and personal caring for your stakeholders.

There you have it!

PS - photo is Midjourney. Somewhat evokes 10-year-old me? Hey, don’t you put your croissants _on_ your newspaper? 🥐