The role of the general counsel has evolved significantly over the last decade. Once a function limited to the management of cases, transactions and routine legal work, the position now includes a substantial strategy element — placing the GC in the inner circle of those making the decisions that guide the business. General counsel are expected to run the legal department more efficiently than ever before while also providing new kinds of value to the company through the strategic use of departmental assets. For today’s general counsel to have the impact that large businesses have come to expect, they must transform not only their way of thinking, but the very operation of their departments. The following are some suggestions drawn from leading general counsel to assist in this effort.
1. Start with a vision
In order to achieve meaningful transformation within the legal department, you must have buy in from the team. However, the legal team will not buy into the idea of a new way of doing business without a vision of the new, more efficient legal department and their roles within it.
Start by imagining what functions could be more efficient, what more the legal department could be doing, and how best the legal team can serve the business generally. Share your vision and ideas with your team, and challenge them to evaluate and contribute to that vision. By doing so, you will not only develop a broad goal for the department toward which everyone can strive, but you will develop a culture of creativity and innovation among your team that will ensure a continuing effort to transform the department for the better.
2. Invest in technology
One of the most obvious but daunting investments that in-house lawyers can make lie within the technology sphere. General counsel typically are not trained to evaluate software products, and as a result, they routinely rely on outside parties to provide technology on an as-needed basis. However, a new crop of innovative technology designed to accelerate transactions, manage contracts, store data and more seem to enter the market each year. It is important to keep abreast of what technological tools are making the work of in-house lawyers more efficient, and it is critical to undertake an occasional cost-benefit analysis to determine whether a particular kind of product can add value.
Fortunately, this is not a process that a GC or even the legal department must manage alone. Rather, the GC should identify and leverage one or more internal IT champions, either from the legal team or the IT department, who can help evaluate the latest products on the market. Investing in the right technology can transform the legal function and do wonders for the company’s bottom line over the long run.
3. Develop collaborative initiatives
While a clear vision and useful tools are integral to the process of transforming a legal department, execution of transformation efforts are very hard to execute alone. Among the most powerful resources available to enable major department change are colleagues from other departments. Having support from HR to minimize employment risk, help from technologists in monetizing intellectual property, and advice from other departments on other efforts that can accelerate the evolution of the legal function are invaluable. Seek out such help, and you may be surprised by how willing the non-lawyers may be to guide you on your way, as well as have valuable that guidance may be.
Most general counsel have arrived in their current positions because of their legal knowledge and skills, but the changing nature of the role demands more. In working to stay ahead of the curve, general counsel should continue thinking about and pursuing opportunities for transformative change.