In-house counsel need to invite themselves to the table
Not all organisations will invite in-house counsel to participate in business strategy, so it’s up to them to prove their value.
That is the view of Lili Dent, PepsiCo senior director, general counsel, ANZ, who spoke to Lawyers Weekly ahead of her panel session at the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023.
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“It’s often up to in-house counsel to demonstrate to the business what they can offer and get a seat at the table,” Ms Dent said.
“Not all organisations will extend an invite to in-house counsel to participate in business strategy — sometimes in-house counsel need to invite themselves and then demonstrate how they can add value.
“But I would say most organisations are realising the importance and benefits of including legal in the business strategy.”
Organisations could support in-house counsel by including them as a member of their leadership team, in new business projects, or by inviting them to functional meetings.
“It could also help unlock the time of in-house counsel by ensuring policies don’t weigh the team down with reviewing or approving low-risk activities or transactions,” Ms Dent added.
At the Corporate Counsel Summit, Ms Dent will speak about how in-house counsel could obtain management buy-in by becoming involved in shaping business strategy and providing advice within an acceptable legal risk profile.
In-house counsel could become involved where there is meaningful risk in the organisation, she explained.
This requires an evaluation of where the important high-risk or strategic activities lie, which Ms Dent said could be in several functions or projects across the business.
“It’s important that legal removes itself from areas where there is low risk or low value add, because this slows the business down and discourages the business from engaging with legal,” she said.
Legal departments could also add significant value when involved in the development and execution of an organisation’s business strategy.
“Not only can they help ensure the strategy is legally sound and won’t hit a legal or regulatory roadblock, they can also identify non-legal risks or obstacles by virtue of the fact that they have a whole organisation view,” Ms Dent said.
Understanding the organisation’s objectives and the importance of achieving them is crucial, as it helps legal departments identify their risk appetite, she added.
“You’ll get management buy-in and engagement if you can show you understand its short-term and long-term goals and are focused on helping the business achieve them,” she said.
Understanding the tech world
Developing technology-related skills is equally important for legal counsel, with Ms Dent pointing out that the evolving tech world brings new legal implications.
This could include the metaverse, the use of social media for marketing, and ChatGPT.
Corporate legal professionals could potentially use technology to deliver legal services with increased efficiency.
“Legal counsel need to be well-informed in these areas and open to changing the way they work to embrace technology,” Ms Dent said.
PepsiCo has shifted a significant portion of its marketing budget to social media, she noted.
“Not being heavy social media users ourselves, our legal team needed to undertake a deep dive to understand the different platforms and how the business wanted to use them, including the plethora of IP-related considerations,” Ms Dent said.
“We then looked at our review process and realised the volume would be increasing so much that the current way of working was unsustainable. We needed to incorporate technology to fast-track our review process.”
As for advice to emerging in-house counsel, Ms Dent recommended that they are abreast of industry trends and impending legal or regulatory changes that could impact the organisations.
This could help them anticipate and prepare for any required changes to strategy or operations while building credibility with key stakeholders, she said.
Flowing from this, she underscored the importance of building strong relationships with key stakeholders such as chief executives and department heads.
“They should see you as the go-to person if they have any questions or problems,” she concluded.
To hear more from Lili Dent about how in-house counsel can grab a seat at the management table and bring value to an organisation by helping them achieve their strategic goals, come along to the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023.
It will be held at Sofitel Sydney Wentworth on Thursday, 25 May.