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Redefine your value proposition as an in-house lawyer

As one senior lawyer and author believes, corporate legal needs to nail down its value proposition so that it can best service the business in an age where the need for just traditional advice is over.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 01 August 2023 Corporate Counsel
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As AlternativelyLegal founder and chief executive Peter Connor (pictured) puts it, corporations do not have legal problems – they have business problems.

In some of those instances, he said, legal issues will be relevant, in which case input from the law department will be critical. But, for most problems facing a business, legal considerations are not so pertinent.

Therefore, Mr Connor explained, if an in-house lawyer’s value proposition is just about the law, then that is a “very narrow” value proposition to bring to the table.


“But, if your value proposition is broader than that, you can contribute to the business in much more significant ways,” he said.

Speaking recently on The Corporate Counsel Show, Mr Connor discussed his take on the T-shaped professional concept, as it pertains to in-house lawyers.

In the context of corporate legal, he detailed, the T-shaped lawyer sees one develop capabilities and experience beyond one’s core legal acumen – namely, business skills and traits. This includes, he noted, having a vision for how one can better support the business.

“What most people do is use those non-legal skills to be a better lawyer. But the whole reason to learn non-legal skills is to do non-legal work,” he argued.

The age of COVID-19 and the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) in mainstream use, Mr Connor went on, is the wake-up call corporate legal needs to implement a new game plan.

“It’s no longer enough to keep going down the traditional legal path and trying to be a better lawyer delivering legal services more efficiently and cost-effectively. I mean, that’s OK. That has been OK up until now. It’s still necessary to do that, but it’s not sufficient,” he posited.

“It’s not sufficient for lawyers to adapt their work to this new, ever-changing environment. It’s not sufficient to future-proof themselves for the changes that are happening.”

There is a “real imperative”, he implored, for corporate legal to adopt a T-shaped approach.

Adoption of this approach doesn’t mean one stops being a lawyer, or should be embarrassed about being a lawyer, Mr Connor noted.

“It’s about adding something, not losing something,” he said.

“It’s going to make you more marketable, more adaptable, more able to switch to different roles.”

“The more seats at the table you get, the more opportunity you have at business partnering, and the more opportunity you have to influence people to do the right thing, and do it in the right way. So, it actually helps your legal work. It’s a self-fulfilling and reinforcing cycle.”

Ultimately, Mr Connor concluded, the T-shaped lawyer is a legal expert and business generalist.

“It’s not about being an expert in project management, or process improvement, or design thinking. It’s about understanding what those things are and knowing when there’s an opportunity to leverage them,” he said.

“It’s not about you doing all the heavy lifting.”

The importance of the T-shaped lawyer concept, and Mr Connor’s take on it, was also shared by AGL Energy senior corporate lawyer Swee-Yue Tan in conversation with Lawyers Weekly in January of this year.

Elsewhere, Virgin Australia senior legal counsel Christopher Doherty also discussed, on The Corporate Counsel Show in June, how he looks to implement the T-shaped lawyer concept.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Peter Connor, click below:

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