Corporate Lawyers – are they the New Rulers?

In-house lawyers - the right hand of the board and backbone of a corporation ?

From being called soft, to being the ones with real power – the role of corporate lawyers has changed drastically in the last decades. Now, they are the influencers closely knit with company executives, and have developed a broader set of skills than any other employee group.

 

Any medium to large sized corporation has, more or less, the same structure and hierarchy: The executives, being top-dogs, makes all the important decisions. Now, however, they’re no longer alone at the top. Just next to them are corporate lawyers and in-house counsel, ready to advise and help govern.

Law is all around, it affects everything a company does. Therefore, lawyers are becoming more important in the running of a business. They are no longer only involved in “traditional” legal management, but also in strategic corporate decision-making, financial department support, team building and company development.

The power of being “in the room”

There are more and more businesses that decide on having in-house lawyers. These corporate counsels are also assigned more and more power. According to an article from Harvard Business Review, there’s a continuing trend toward general counsel who report directly to the chief executives and work as high-level advisors to CEOs and boards. It’s even getting more common to give senior counsel C-suite roles other than “chief legal officer”. 

In the Annual Corporate Directors Survey from PwC it was shown that General Counsel (GC) had great impact on presenting to the board. Just after the CFO, GC had the largest trust from the board with 52% of surveyed executives finding their representing skills excellent.

As for the number of in house counsels growing, it is showing for new types of corporate lawyers. They are no longer part of a “limited” team. Now they are the heart of a business, pulsating to get the whole company working the way it should. They are in all the corporate rooms, from financial teams and HR-departments to the boardroom. This is leading them to be in true power.

The new rulers, and their rules

The role of in-house counsel is changing. Instead of “only” being there to give advice, today they are influencers. They play an integral role in corporate business as they have legal insight, but at the same time they’re intimate with a company’s business policy. This is leading them to a know-all position, and being the key rulers next to the executives.

Cecilie Kjelland, the Vice President of ECLA (European Company Lawyers Association), explains the perplex role of a corporate lawyer as a person balancing plenty of expertise. “You need the business knowledge, you need to know how the engineers are thinking, how the economists are thinking… And of course, this makes the profession as an inhouse counsel different from that as an external counsel because we have to balance the assessments we make between the business and legal advice, and we need a significant knowledge or how the legal advice affects the business.”

Though it might not have been on top of the law school graduates lists to become a corporate lawyer before, it much so is now. In an article published by Harvard Business Review the description of the transition corporate lawyers has been through the last decades is straight forward: “Twenty years ago, the general counsel role was not a powerful or influential one. The move from a law firm to in-house counsel was regarded as a ‘soft’ option. (…) Because regulatory scrutiny has intensified so much, General counsel now are under more pressure and work just as hard as partners in a law firm”

Lawyers are not business people, or are they?

Attorneys are taught to think about the next step, to follow the causal chain and assess the likelihood of outcome. If that is not a common trait of a “business person”, then what is? Though corporate lawyers might never take off their “legal hats”, their knowledge and talent is much broader. Beyond their legal expertise, General Counsel today are also trained to be business savvy. Law schools have now started to see the incline of in-house counsel and are offering more business, international and language focused legal-courses within their programs. All because cultural awareness also is a key skill required by general counsels in the business world of today.

According to an article from Forbes, 14% of greater American companies are run by a law-educated CEO. That number is rising. It is also argued that law-trained people are better at risk analysis than people who got an MBA. In a 2017 publication from Harvard Law School, it was shown that companies run by law educated CEOs are associated with less corporate litigation.

General counsels have advanced degrees. They’re generally highly intelligent people who are good for a lot more than drawing up contracts. That is why they also can excel in the business world!

DiliTrust takes weight of in-house counsel shoulders

As the tasks get bigger and in-house counsel have more responsibility, a digital assistant can be of great use. The DiliTrust Governance software offers help to carry out management missions, follow-up subsidiaries and participate by centralising all the data relating to the legal life of corporate entities, plus ensuring their traceability. Thus, it allows for an overall view of all units to achieve good legal governance.

With DiliTrust Governance it is possible to manage all legal areas collectively, archives legal data and documents, monitors activities and shares legal documents and collaborates online in one and the same place. All documents can be easily found, making corporate lawyers more efficient and not focused on time-consuming work. 

To learn more about how The DiliTrust software can help your legal team advance and be more effective, contact us or schedule a free demo. We’re here to answer all your questions and help fill your governance voids.

Read more! If this article interested you, maybe you would also like to read “Why executives should open up for AI in their business“.