What General Counsels Need to Know in 2019
The legal world has gone through an unprecedented change in recent years – both with dynamic innovations being implemented and with structural changes occurring.
General Counsels (GC) are no longer expected to exclusively focus on their roles as legal advisors, but also address other matters, such as business, financial and procedural issues, development and growth of the team and strategy matters.
This short post will focus on three main aspects that fall under the GC’s new roles:
1. Becoming business advisors and managing the legal team as a business unit;
2. Implementing alternative work arrangements, such as insourcing and outsourcing;
3. Being a “compliance officer” de facto and raising the awareness for ethical issues in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, race, gender and cyber security.
1. Strategic Role
GC’s need to be conscious of their changing role in their organizations. They are no longer expected to exclusively focus on legal work, but are also expected to become business advisors and consultants within their organizations.
This shift is due to the increased demand for multidisciplinary services from GCs. They are expected to take an active role in the strategic operations of the company. General Counsel’s are embracing the business aspects and are more active players in the actual running of the law firms.
GC’s are starting to appear on the Board of Directors and becoming a part of the management team. These positions give them the opportunity to have a broad perspective of the company and contribute more to its success. It is important for General Counsel to develop and train lawyers with their own business management skill set. This grants lawyers a broader perspective of their clients' needs and promotes efficiency.
It is clear that the responsibility of in-house counsel is expanding from a merely functional role to also a strategic one.
It is clear that more law firms are implementing a change in work arrangements in order to combat financial and time constraints. There is a global competition between law firms emerging, and it is apparent that GC will need to reduce costs in order to stay afloat - insourcing is one solution to this. Insourcing allows GC to reallocate work within the company.
Technology is a big contributor to this shift of services. It has become a permanent presence within the legal profession, and gives GC’s the opportunity to reallocate work,
in-house. Technological devices and systems are not only cost redactors, but also, in certain tasks, more competent and time effective.
There are various ways in which technology is used to assist insourcing. One is data-analysis, where a technological program can identify expenditures in the company and gives solutions on how to reduce them. It also gives GC’s the ability to analyze what work can be insourced and reallocated.
However, in contrast to this, even though insourcing is being promoted, GC’s are also encouraged to delegate work that cannot be completed in-house, to external service providers. GC must identify non-crucial work and outsource it. There are three main reasons as to why outsourcing certain work is beneficial:
Quantity of work is too big to handle internally
Apparent nature of risk in the matter
It requires special expertise
It is essential that GC’s delegate using these guidelines and adjust workloads accordingly, for the company’s best interests.
3. Ethical Issues, including Data Breaches and Security
During the last few years, there has been a global wave of awareness in relation to various ethical issues. This is something that goes beyond the legal scope, into something that is rooted in humanity. These problems are not only present in the broad scope of society but also, the workplace.
GC’s are encouraged to advocate solutions to these issues within their law firms. It not only benefits the company’s reputation, but also the individual employees facing these prejudices. GC needs to identify the specific disputes relevant in their institutions and work to resolve them.
The various issues present in the workplace will be explored below:
The rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements on social media has brought sexual harassment in the workplace to focus. This issue is under a microscope in the professional world, with more and more employees opening up about their experiences. GC needs to prioritize this issue by putting clear procedures and consequences in place for both the victim and accused.
This is a contentious issue, with different GC’s allocating it more concern than others. One argument reasons that talent overrides origins. However, for others, diversity is an essential requirement and that law firms be representative of the world in which we live, and thus should be inclusive of cultures. GC should reflect on their company’s ethos and make changes that are beneficial to their individual law firms.
This is another aspect that is being placed in high regard by the legal profession. It refers to being aware of and managing, not only one’s own emotions, but also those of others. It is not a traditional skillset, however this characteristic is something that will set a company apart from the masses. It is a desired trait, and something that law firms are looking for in prospective employees.
Cyber security and data privacy
It is essential for GC’s to adapt to the digital world in which we live. In reality, hacking and data breaches occur regularly, and GC’s need to be proactive and protect their firms from these violations. GC’s must implement an effective and secure plan for their firms incase these situations occur.
GC’s are expected to promote and improve these various societal issues in order to be a part of the solution and not the problem.
It is evident that General Counsel’s are assuming a broader responsibility within their law firms. Managing the legal repercussions of their firms’ actions is still in their main interest, however, it is not their exclusive focus. In 2019, GC’s must expand their repertoire and focus on additional areas in their companies.