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Just 8% of GCs perform ‘truly executive’ roles

General counsel are much more effective when they spend time on strategic work and supply business guidance, according to Gartner.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 25 August 2020 Corporate Counsel
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GCs who take a more executive approach to their role have a stronger ability to influence the CEO of a business or organisation, and also can have a significant impact on strategic decision-making, says global research and advisory company Gartner.

According to Gartner’s research, 83 per cent of general counsel who are “personally effective” can strongly influence the CEO, compared to just 46 per cent who aren’t, and 89 per cent of such GCs have a substantive effect on the strategic direction of the business, compared to 43 per cent of GCs who aren’t personally effective. Moreover, personally effective GCs are much less likely to waste time, Gartner added.

“GC who spend more time on strategic work are simply more effective,” said Gartner legal and compliance vice-president Abbott Martin.


“In an era where corporate success is often defined by assets that legal protects (IP, data rights, reputation) and services legal provides (risk governance), GC are essential to corporate strategy and must focus their time accordingly. The pandemic – with the interdependence of governmental action and corporate response – has only heightened the importance of the GC.”

However, the company added, only 8 per cent of GCs perform a “truly executive role”. Three-fifths (59 per cent) of such professionals perform tactical legal work and offer legal guidance, rather than involving themselves in top-level strategy.

“GCs often default to focusing primarily on the strictly legal aspects of the guidance they provide, failing to meaningfully incorporate extra-legal business considerations such as the impact of the law on strategic initiatives or the bottom line,” Gartner espoused.

The GC is used as a chief lawyer by most CEOs, executive teams and boards unless they are “explicitly trained” to utilise them in other fashions, it added.

“As a starting point, GCs should think about the role they occupy and have a direct conversation with the CEO about long-term corporate needs,” said Mr Martin.

“GCs should rework their future commitments, so that they are keenly focused on the highest priority corporate goals and strategy.”

If GCs were to pivot their time towards more strategic work, Gartner posited, it would “naturally lead” to that professional being more involved in executive decision-making and execution. This will require, it listed, shifting one’s thinking on how they spend their time and working on tasks such as contract management, M&A and regulatory analysis.

Furthermore, the company added, COVID-19 has presented new legal and compliance issues for businesses, thereby allowing GCs greater scope to be involved in high-level decisions.

“COVID-19 might be a catalyst for action, but it’s certainly not the end of the story of the importance of the GC being personally effective,” said Mr Martin.

“The success of a modern company usually depends on its ability to generate revenue from the types of assets that typically fall within a GC’s stewardship.”

The challenge for most GCs, Gartner concluded, is to shift their approach to risk management and their mindset from a provider of legal services to a business leader who provides strategic and operational clarity to the company.