How the role of general counsel is changing

March 28, 2019

The days when the role of the general counsel focused entirely on advising companies about legal risks are over. In today’s corporate legal environment, GCs are expected to provide strategic advice to top-level decision-makers and to help grow the business.

The evolution of the GC role creates both added pressure to move the needle on business performance and an obligation to do more with less. In response, GCs must innovate to achieve desired outcomes and fulfill their role as valued internal partners. For most GCs, this means embracing technology and alternative legal service providers as key resources in corporate legal processes.

Going from risk advisers to strategic business leaders

Historically, GCs advised their companies on legal risks and shouldered responsibility for the organization’s legal work, but rarely engaged in top-level decision-making. However, corporate leaders increasingly expect GCs to participate in strategic advisory for compliance, contract negotiations, corporate ethics, transaction monitoring, and many other activities that extend well beyond the traditional boundaries of the general counsel position. In some corporations, GCs are even asked to serve as board members.

As a result of their expanded responsibilities, 88 percent of GCs believe they play a strategic role in corporate decision-making, according to Ashurst. In some ways, the general counsel position has transformed into something akin to a C-suite role — GCs must now make decisions that generate measurable business value.

Although GCs command a louder voice in corporate decision-making, the general counsel’s expanded role as a strategic business leader also presents new challenges, including an urgency to demonstrate the legal function’s role in improving business performance. In fact, Ashurst’s data shows that a significant majority of GCs (83%) now feel pressure to improve the efficiencies of their function and to reduce costs.

The expansion of the general counsel’s responsibilities reflects its growing importance to the business. As those responsibilities continue to rise, GCs must adapt their strategies and embrace innovations that create business value and demonstrate how the legal function directly impacts the company’s bottom line.

How technology and legal managed services are vital to the success of the general counsel role

Technology offers a solution for GCs feeling the weight of added workload and management responsibilities. Proven, low-risk solutions enable GCs to improve the quality of work output, increase efficiency, and streamline work processes. Although GCs are tasked with mitigating risk, they must adopt an approach to implementing legal technology that balances risk against the ability to generate value for the business.

The use of low-risk technology may be most beneficial in the area of routine legal work. For example, contract management systems manage multiple drafts of agreements over the course of negotiations, creating a system that allows GCs and other leaders to monitor the status of active negotiations in real time.

Similarly, GCs can leverage the power of legal technology in contract data extraction solutions that are designed to uncover insights that produce more favorable outcomes at lower costs in future agreements. By capturing key terms as data points and generating reporting across document types to identify trends in agreements, contract data extraction solutions help GCs eliminate the guesswork from advising on legal outcomes and reduce the bias of recalling only memorable transactions that may not accurately reflect true outcomes.

Some legal managed services combine advanced, cloud-based technologies with a remote work model to deliver outsourced legal services for NDAs, joinders, engagement letters, and other types of routine legal documents. ALSPs give GCs access to an expanded pool of legal talent with narrow specializations, improving the cost efficiency of the company’s legal function, while simultaneously resulting in a higher quality of work.

In many cases, piecemeal solutions lack the strategic value and cost-efficiency of a consolidated approach. Savvy GCs typically optimize performance and maximize return on investment by focusing on integrated, end-to-end solutions that combine proven legal technologies with legal managed services, including ALSPs.

Why embracing strategic leadership is critical

The evolving nature of the general counsel role represents a win-win for both companies and legal departments. By embracing their new role as strategic business leaders, GCs are in a better position to manage risk and influence the future of the business.

However, navigating the additional workload and responsibilities of their expanded role requires GCs to move beyond the status quo and explore new ways to generate value for the business. The combination of technology and legal managed services offers GCs reliable tools for improving both performance and efficiency — factors that will ultimately determine their success as strategic business leaders.

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