GCs are evolving into business strategists
In-house legal teams have been progressing from pure legal advisers to business strategists, according to a legal executive.
Global alternative legal services provider LOD managing director, Australia, Paul Cowling said he has already witnessed an evolution among in-house legal teams and GCs, who have been expanding their roles beyond legal analysts and advisers to strategic thinkers.
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Mr Cowling’s comments have preceded Lawyers Weekly’s 2022 Corporate Counsel Summit, during which he and a panel of speakers will gaze into the crystal ball to anticipate how the legal profession will evolve in the next five years, discover future legal operating models, and enable resilience so law departments can adapt to the ever-changing environment.
“We’ve run a report fairly recently, which demonstrated that in-house legal leaders have started to feel far more trusted by businesses, which has empowered GCs to really influence their organisation beyond strictly legal and governance matters and add significant input into broader business strategy,” Mr Cowling said.
Indeed, a recent LOD global survey report on trust, and how it could act as an antidote to uncertainty, stated that the coronavirus pandemic and remote working arrangements had spurred a material uplift in trust levels across organisations and their legal teams.
Over a third of in-house lawyers are feeling more trusted by the business, while over 96 per cent of in-house legal leaders are retaining remote working and trusting their team to “get on with the job”, the survey found.
“This multi-level increase in trust is enabling a shift towards focusing on outputs, rather than tightly controlling inputs,” the report said.
“Instead of measuring hours in the office, employees are trusted to get on with work at home and are measured against their deliverables.”
This rise in trust has already seen an increase in the influence of GCs on their organisation’s strategic direction, according to Mr Cowling.
“We’ve seen in the past year or two a reliance on senior members to drive businesses through challenging periods, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis over the past two years,” he said.
“The increase in trust is absolutely obvious to us, and flowing from that, the increased influence of GCs in their organisations is pretty clear.”
Risk management skills lead to career progression
GCs and in-house legal teams have been able to demonstrate their value to the broader business by understanding its risk appetite, gaining greater insight into business operations, and advising executives on the legal implications of day-to-day decisions, Mr Cowling explained.
“They’ve been able to show their worth outside of the pure black letter law and I think generally speaking, organisations have welcomed that,” he said.
This has permeated into high-profile appointments of GCs into executive roles within large corporate firms equivalent to a chief executive or a chief financial officer, Mr Cowling added.
“I’ve increasingly noticed former lawyers who have transitioned out of senior legal roles and into senior corporate roles within organisations,” he said.
“When you trace back their career path, they were former GCs in organisations or a former partner of a law firm. This shows that they have clearly demonstrated their worth.”
The importance of sharing ideas
To keep pace with the evolving role of GCs, leaders in the legal profession could proactively engage with the broader community through events, mentorship programs, peer groups, conversations, or social media platforms to exchange strategies and share knowledge about how other GCs may have grown in their roles, Mr Cowling suggested.
“Sometimes, as an in-house lawyer we may feel it is hard to reach out to others and feel like we’re a part of a broader community,” he said.
“But actively engaging with the entire community will enable us to talk about ideas and learn from other people.”
Engaging with junior members of an in-house legal team could also enhance a GC’s knowledge around new tools and alternative working and staffing models, Mr Cowling advised.
“Junior members of their own teams are perhaps even more heavily engaged with peer groups and industry groups outside of their own organisation, and could share that knowledge with the GC or senior teams,” he said.
“It could also empower junior members to influence the direction of the team.”
LOD’s global survey report suggested that GCs could elevate themselves and expand their role by diversifying their skill set and receiving training and development in areas beyond the law, either through MBAs, free online training, or internal secondments into the commercial areas of their organisation.
To hear more from Paul Cowling and a panel of speakers about how law departments could evolve in the next five years, come along to the Corporate Counsel Summit in May.