06 March 2020

The opportunities for general counsel to prove their strategic value are legion

Photograph of Matthew Kay

Matthew Kay: GCs are 'under the magnifying glass more than ever before'

Vario managing director Matthew Kay on how GCs can drive efficiency and value for their businesses

Mark A. Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic, explained it well in Forbes when he said that “GCs are collaborators, integrators, and business advocates; they are not just lawyers anymore”.

Being a strategist is now a key competency for those wanting to lead an in-house legal team. The legal function is expected to advise on the general business strategy of a company. 

General Counsel are no longer just the senior authorities on legal issues, only roped in to deal with tricky issues of risk.  That’s still a key part of the job, but they are now increasingly expected to deliver innovation and actual economic value for their business.

This is down to a number of factors which include ever more complex supply-chains and far-reaching legislation, the rise and advancement of technology, an increasingly globalised economy, political movements, and climate change events that are forcing all businesses to reflect. 

But the problem we hear time and time again from our partners out in the market is that this is leading to greater expectations for in-house legal teams to do more with less.

Budgets haven’t massively increased and general counsel are having to operate within restricted legal spends.  Yes, recent trends have opened up more opportunities for GCs to take active and strategic roles in their businesses – but it’s a new pressure point that they must cope with. 

They are under the magnifying glass more than ever before. So how can GCs show that they are ahead of the curve and excel in this new and more strategic role?  How can they drive efficiency and value for their business whilst still capably protecting its interests?

Invest in technology 

A number of exciting options are already out there to help ease in-house legal team pressures. For example, AI tools can save a lot of time by sifting through existing case judgments so lawyers can see easily whether their legal arguments have been used in previous cases.   

Adopting new technology in the office may cause concern amongst teams that they might be replaced by ‘legal robots’. But these fears are misplaced. 

With adequate buy-in throughout the company, and enough time spent on researching the most effective solutions out there, technology is one of the key ways for GCs to ease pressure on themselves and their legal teams. 

It’s true that a large up-front investment may be needed to get the wheels of a new solution rolling – and with already tight budgets, that can be daunting. 

But when done right, there’s perhaps no better way to reduce departmental costs in the long-run. The key for the GC is securing internal buy-in and getting suggestions past the board. 

Before this, the following needs to be worked out – what type of technology is actually suitable for the needs of the department, and what can be left by the wayside? 

With so much legal tech constantly being developed the choices and options seem endless. How will any new solution be delivered practically, and in a timeframe that ensures it won’t just be out of date when the project is finished?

It’s also important to collect evidence so nay-sayer colleagues can be convinced otherwise – how has the technological solution helped other legal departments improve?  What are the best case studies to look towards for inspiration?

Evaluate what the in-house department needs from its law firm partners

GCs should look into their existing working relationships with law firms. Is the team working effectively with its law firm partners? Are objectives and strategies across the teams aligned? GCs should consider how these could be enhanced or adapted to the teams changing needs.

Outsource expertise

Sometimes the team is simply over-capacity, or the issue is better handled by somebody else.  Where this is the case, and there isn’t the budget to take on more staff, consider outsourcing legal expertise.

Contract lawyers, for example, can jump into projects and help as and when needed, so there is no need to employ a new member of staff full-time. They can be contracted for the expertise they need for a special project – for example six months only.

Or if an extra pair of hands is needed to provide legal support, good quality paralegals can be contracted to help the more senior lawyers focus on business strategy. They don’t need a full training programme and induction which can save the team’s time and money.  

General Counsel may be under increasing pressures in the ‘new world’, but opportunities for them to prove a new level of strategic value are legion.  

Proving value to the board is only possible by GCs who have done their research, and really thought about the tangible economic benefit they can bring.  It’s a valuable use of time.  And GCs should make sure they recognise this.

Email your news and story ideas to: news@globallegalpost.com