Any lawyer understands that preparation is one of the keys to a successful profession. Litigators, contract lawyers, and associates fresh out of law school are all aware that in order for a job to proceed successfully, it must be adequately prepared. However, not every lawyer considers this axiom in the context of their overall professional objectives. The truth is that, much as the law is always changing, with new laws and judgements being issued on a daily basis, the function of the attorney is more adaptable than you may believe. This is especially true for attorneys who serve as general counsel.
To address this changing position, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) conducted a study of general counsel and board members to determine where the winds of change are blowing. The end outcome is an intriguing testimonial to the adaptability of the legal profession.
The ACC research, titled Skills for the 21st Century General Counsel, dives into the many tasks that organisations would expect to complete when seeking out and hiring general counsel. Planning forward to the future of the general counsel job is critical to remain ahead in your chosen route, whether you are a general counsel today or looking to make the shift to an in-house position in the near future.
The ACC distinguishes between the essential positions of legal department head, chief counsellor, and strategist. The data indicate that, although the essential competency for general counsel is unlikely to alter much, the balance of these three jobs is already moving.
While the emphasis swings away from team leadership, other critical general counsel jobs will undoubtedly take up the slack. In the next years, both counselor-in-chief abilities and strategy are projected to become even more crucial.
Knowledge and attention to legal compliance and regulatory concerns have become more important to international firms, with 44 percent of general counsel situated outside of the United States citing this as a “top three” asset.
Though it may come as no surprise to acting general counsel, strategy is the function in which this poll indicates the greatest shift, with 71% of general counsel questioned anticipating “strategic decision making to become a top three value-driver for legal department leaders in the next five to ten years.” This includes both legal strategy, which is already an important aspect of the game, and broader company strategy. A future-ready general counsel is one who can make legal choices that are not just accurate in terms of the law, but also in terms of the entire business objectives.
So, what does this imply for you as general counsel? This is heavily influenced by your organisation and its expectations. In a larger sense, the ACC research shows that the function of general counsel is evolving and that the changes that are coming may be seen from both sides of the fence. Flexibility will always be essential for success in this position. This entails not just remaining on top of your legal game, but also figuring out the expectations that come with your profession and being able to add and remove from those expectations as needed. It is no longer sufficient for general counsel to just be a skilled lawyer. Instead, concentrate on what additional abilities you can offer to the table and then put them to use.