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Balancing competing priorities as a legal department leader

In the current market, being a general counsel comes with a number of competing responsibilities and challenges – but this head of legal said that resilience and positive connection are both key elements of overcoming these challenges in 2024.

user iconLauren Croft 19 March 2024 Corporate Counsel
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Teresa Allan is the vice-president, general counsel, and ethics and compliance officer at Capgemini. She is also a multiple-time finalist for a number of Lawyers Weekly awards.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Corporate Counsel Show, she outlined key challenges for legal teams and shared tips for success and balancing competing priorities.

In terms of broader challenges and hurdles that might get in the way of resilience and positive reconnection – which Allan said would both help set legal teams up for success in 2024 – many law departments are currently taking on a broader scope of work than ever before.


“For a long time, I’ve also had a dual ethics and compliance role. Then you have your straight legal role, then we can see that with the increase in regulation in all places, we’re actually having to be a lot more proactive in getting out there and talking to all other departments of the business. So that’s all important,” she explained.

“We have very strong viewpoints. We’ve had a code of ethics for AI for a number of years, and so we’ve got these great thought leaders within our business. And sometimes, my concern is that as the head of the legal team, I also need to be one of those thought leaders. But how do we create the space in our day-to-day?”

In terms of balancing varying things her team has to be doing, Allan finds that dividing up her time between “firefighting” and strategy has been important – and is something she encourages her team to do, too.

“I carve out sections of my diary, so there are pockets where I try desperately hard not to get blocked. And I encourage my team to do that. And that’s not only for the strategic think pieces, but frankly, when they need to go and pick up kids from the school run or whatever it is, that is completely fine. You block out time when you need to, so you can try and manage the balance,” she opined.

“And it’s to try and encourage the team to think, do you really need to be at that meeting? Can you just give your input beforehand? Sometimes, the answer is yes, they do; sometimes, they don’t. And try to ensure that everybody has the autonomy to decide where they can best spend their time. It’s always an evolving project, I would say.”

While being able to manage projects, ensure resilience, operate on a lesser budget and connect with one’s team may sometimes be harder, Allan said it remains important for legal teams to connect each point of a business.

“It’s really brilliant if you can work at a place where you feel aligned with what your business is actually doing at some level. So, for me, it’s the fact our company has a shared purpose about unleashing human energy through technology for an inclusive and sustainable future. When I think of it like that, everything that we do on the day-to-day, we’re all about helping our clients get to that inclusive and sustainable future through the use of technology. And it’s just very much like, well, now I need to try and apply that to the legal team, and you can’t do it all of the time. So, you do have to try and prioritise and work out what is the most important,” she added.

“I don’t think that there’s a magic answer. I just think that we’ve got to keep on trying. And I think the legal team is such an important function. I know I’m biased, but I think one of the things beyond the quality legal advice that’s expected [is] the fact that we can connect the dots across all our business because we support all areas of the business, and then it’s trying to reconnect.”

Further, in terms of setting her own legal team up for success and optimal resilience in 2024, Allan emphasised the importance of human connection and autonomy within her team.

“My definition of success is where I have a business that respects what we do and works well with us so that they understand that we are all pulling in the same direction. I think the team will have more satisfaction if they know that they can work flexibly and with autonomy. They know that I’ve got their back for when they have to push back or they have to triage doing different things. But I think a lot of it is also trying to make sure [the team] feel that they have the autonomy to do what they think is best because, in a lot of cases, they know better than me,” she said.

“What I really want to do is try and reinforce the connections that my team have with each other and across the business. And it’s how we can take a step back, because everybody is so busy, to take a few deep breaths and reconnect along the way. Because I always think that in order to sustain us all, we need to pace ourselves. So, there’s no point [in] working round the clock for six months and then collapsing in a big heap. So, it’s about what I can do to create an environment where my team can be out there doing their high wire act and know a safety net is there if they need it.”

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