Over the past decade no other executive role within business organizations has evolved to the extent of that of the general counsel (GC).
Surging legal and litigation costs coupled with increasing regulatory pressure and an uncertain economy have expanded the GC’s responsibilities to be not only an executive advisor, but also a risk manager and a business decision-maker handling large budgets. As a result, gaining greater control over information and processes to drive efficiency and better manage risk is now top of mind for the GC, often dominating the department agenda.
Today, in-house lawyers have evolved from providers of legal advice to core business advisers and key strategic participants. In fact, legal departments are being invited to brainstorming sessions before new products and services are launched in order to identify, and in many cases quantify, potential risks. This is a significant change from the past when lawyers were only called after the fact to address a problem.
As in-house lawyers become more diverse counselors, they need to advise senior management not only on the legal issues associated with specific initiatives, but the actions necessary to accomplish those tasks. The GCs who can provide a quantifiable response will build trust in an increasingly numbers-driven economic climate.
But as legal departments change their operational models, they find they must also improve their internal processes; find ways to leverage knowledge with fewer resources; gain efficiencies with internal projects; better manage outside suppliers; and improve collaboration with geographically dispersed team members and outside counsel.