While there will always be a need for reactive advice and “fire drilling”, general counsel should focus the majority of their attention on being proactive, argues one senior professional.
In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, ahead of his appearance at the upcoming Corporate Counsel Summit, American Express Australia vice-president and head of legal Ryan Rayfield said that general counsel must always be looking to go above and beyond the provision of legal services in the nine-to-five.
“We look for ways we can add value to the business beyond black letter law, whether through our knowledge of the company strategy and business priorities, whether it is having a focus as a team on the competitive landscape so we can contribute commercially, or whether its giving back to the community through volunteer and pro bono work that helps the company brand and culture – they are all part of what I call the ‘contribution factor’ – what do you contribute day-to-day beyond the normal expectations of your legal role,” he said.
“How can your service stand out? By removing the stigma that lawyers are conservative, technical and here to ruin the party and by being commercial, open and proactive. I also find you can excel by building personal work relationships based on trust and authenticity – when you know your client and your client knows you, you break down many of the barriers to great advice and even greater outcomes in half the time because of the open line of communication that those relationships facilitate.”
Most of what GCs do should be proactive, Mr Rayfield continued, even in the midst of reactive advice and “fire drilling” that must be done.
This necessarily involves, he said, “anticipating and planning the management of litigation, managing for the potential brand impact of business decisions, developing regulatory strategy, or planning for the impact of political and cultural change, or, just as importantly, anticipating the needs of each and every member of your team, being proactive is where at an executive level we can add the most value to our businesses as the GC”.
When asked how best the GC can ensure the legal team is firing on all cylinders, he pointed to “engagement, development, flexibility and fun”.
“I also think it is important that your team can identify the connection between what they do day-to-day and the broader purpose and strategy of the company – they need to know what they do in the office counts!” he said.
Moreover, the GC has to lead from the front in the face of evolving marketplace factors to keep the team on the right track, Mr Rayfield concluded.
“By showing calm under pressure and acknowledging that whilst certain situations may not be ideal, change is a constant, and invariably with change or any kind comes opportunity, and an opportunity to learn,” he said.
Interested in the issues shaping the roles of in-house lawyers? Don’t miss your chance to hear from local and global in-house legal powerhouses like Ryan Rayfield at the Corporate Counsel Summit 2020!