The evolution of general counsel’s responsibilities: challenges and opportunities
A general counsel, also known as chief counsel or chief legal officer, advises the senior management team on the legal strategy and tactics that they should undertake in the best interests of the business. The many roles and responsibilities of general counsel within an organization can be quite different to those of a traditional lawyer in an external law firm, since they are required to have specific industry knowledge and business expertise, which is integral to their ability to advise senior management. In this article, we will look at some of the challenges and opportunities that they face in their position.
- The skill set of a general counsel is much broader than a lawyer in a law firm. They must be knowledgeable in business matters, so that they can provide contextual legal advice that contributes to the growth and success of a business.
- In many cases, a general counsel will also require industry-specific knowledge and experience. This is essential for navigating the legal landscape in certain cases that are industry-specific. This means that a general counsel is also responsible for seeking out opportunities within an organization to build their knowledge and skills with an industry-specific approach.
- Given that a general counsel is responsible for providing legal advice that is in the best interests of the business, it is also essential that they understand the financial implications of their advice. As such, they need to acquire knowledge and experience in finance, and proactively find opportunities where they can combine that with their legal, business, and industry-specific knowledge.
- The general counsels of an organization not only dispense legal advice; they are viewed as a go-to advisor within a business. This means that they need to develop a high standard in soft skills, such as networking, communication, and leadership. They need to be approachable and provide complex advice in a manner that is understandable to different levels and departments of an organization. This can be quite challenging as it requires a non-legalese approach to communicating complex legal topics.
- In addition to soft skills, a general counsel requires the right personality to carry out their responsibilities. With an advanced skill set and knowledge, they need to have the emotional intelligence to navigate the political climate of an organization to get things done.
- The general counsel’s responsibilities provide many networking opportunities within different levels and departments of an organization. Unlike other members of senior management, they provide a well-rounded view of a business and an organization. For this reason, they are viewed as a key advisor to the CEO.
- The opportunity to network provides a general counsel with a broader view of the organization than other members of senior management. In this way, a general counsel has more flexibility to learn about different aspects of a business, thus making them an invaluable resource within the organization.
- The ability of a general counsel to fulfill their responsibilities is enhanced by their interaction with different areas of an organization. In this way, they must expand their knowledge beyond the law. This presents a unique opportunity for lawyers who enjoy new challenges and experiences.
- When a general counsel overcomes the challenges, and embraces the opportunities before them, their broad knowledge and skill set greatly distinguishes them from other lawyers, which makes them attractive for a variety of roles in an organization.
- As the skills, knowledge, and experience of a general counsel evolve, they become more influential within the organization. In this way, a general counsel has the opportunity to make a significant impact on a business.
The general counsel’s responsibilities lend themselves to a sociable leader with high emotional intelligence. Undoubtedly, there is a considerable learning curve for a lawyer, since this role requires a well-rounded set of skills, knowledge, and experience that can only be gained through consistent, proactive development in business, finance, and industry-specific subject matter areas.
A general counsel is also expected to take on other roles, which can extend beyond the position of business and legal advisor. However, there are unique opportunities for a general counsel: with their specialized knowledge and skill set, they can have a significant impact on a business and an organization. Their responsibilities and skill set also prepare them for a variety of career opportunities that extend beyond the legal landscape.