5 Key Qualities of a Successful General Counsel

The role and scope of the general counsel is rapidly evolving.

5 Key Qualities of a Successful General Counsel

While the primary mission of the general counsel traditionally is to provide advice and carry out legal tasks for the organization, the position is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. The general counsel’s role and scope are evolving. An effective general counsel must act as a business leader, a negotiator, and a leader in digital transformation. 

Several key characteristics can be attributed to effective general counsels.

“The general counsel is now a core member of the top management team and offers advice not just on law and related matters but helps shape discussion and debate around business issues.”

Source:  Harvard Business Review

an effective general counsel is a leader

To begin, general counsels absorbed in day-to-day legal tasks can lose sight of long-term strategic planning and goalsetting. An effective general counsel knows how to delicately balance their legal duties while still prioritizing overall business operations. 

The role of the GC has evolved into a senior leadership role, which requires a broader skill set and outlook. A successful GC has the technical know-how and can contribute meaningfully to the overall strategy and direction of the organization. 

“A good general counsel has to be a strong leader who can attract the right talent and not be afraid to make tough decisions.”

Keith Nelsen, executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary of Best Buy. Source: Korn Ferry

Risk Management

One of the main priorities of the GC is to identify and manage risk. Now, the risk landscape is more complex than ever, with new and more complicated threats emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An excellent general counsel must correctly identify any risk exposure the organization faces. According to Deloitte, “GCs and risk specialists will need to collaborate to develop an effective framework that captures the multitude of legal risks that exist in organizations and design controls to mitigate the most critical.” 

Effective Time Management

Next, for the general counsel, time efficiency is key. GCs are often torn away from their primary tasks for emergencies and other urgent issues. According to Gartner, “Over half of GC report their planned work gets interrupted at least 70% of the time by an urgent issue.”

An effective GC identifies the right tools to put in place to manage time and tasks efficiently. Tools such as Contract Lifecycle Management,  Entity Management, and Litigation Management facilitate operational processes, save time, and reduce risk. In this case, the general counsel feels in control of their time and can focus on the tasks that require their dedicated attention. 

the proactive mindset of an effective general counsel

A strong general counsel must maintain a visionary mindset. Being able to handle the intricate details of their operations while at the same time keeping perspective of the big picture is key to delivering results. In the same spirit, a successful general counsel must handle the challenges of the present while anticipating future obstacles.

In the last two years in particular, the legal team has become much more of a trusted business partner.

Katherine Woods, Group Legal Director, Mitie

An effective GC is a leader in digital transformation

Finally, one of the most significant missions of a general counsel is leading their team through digital transformation.

In 2021, technology plays a major role in the success and productivity of modern legal departments.  The general counsel must be able to ensure a smooth technological transition for its team by choosing the right technology. 

According to Deloitte, only 29% of legal teams are prepared for tech adoption. In addition, only 56% of legal teams are harnessing innovative technologies. It is up to the general counsel to close the digitalization gap and guide their legal departments through the digital transition. According to PwC, GCs must “introduce technology to deliver more efficient and effective services and enabling their people to focus on higher-value and more engaging work.”

To conclude, the role of the GC is becoming more and more dynamic. A successful general counsel must be able to balance a heavy task load and know how to use the right technology to boost productivity and efficiency for the entire department.

Learn how the DiliTrust Governance suite can help your legal department champion digital transformation.