As with most management positions, the first 100 days as general counsel are crucial. This initial period contributes to the success of the job and both short- and long-term projects. For a new general counsel, there are many challenges to tackle during this initial period.
Here are the things that general counsels should focus on and the pitfalls to avoid in their first 100 days.
Preparing for your first 100 days as a general counsel: Day zero
The role of general counsel or chief legal officer (CLO) is a legal expert who directs a company’s legal strategy. The CLO is responsible for the company’s legal security and, in particular, plays an advisory role on all the company’s legal issues. This includes regulatory changes, compliance, contractual and litigation strategies, and risk assessment.
What is the role of the general counsel?
Before accepting a position as general counsel, it is essential to know the scope of the position. Traditionally somewhat outside of the management team, general counsels these days can be an integral part of the management team and even sit on the board. Sometimes the role of general counsel is going through a transformation process, and prospects for integration into the management team can be emphasized during the recruitment process.It is, therefore, important to understand the scope of the general counsel’s role and their place in the company. You can find out this information during interviews and discuss it before taking up the post.
Understanding the company’s culture
If you are taking up a post in a new company, you must incorporate the company’s culture into your work. Again, it is during the interviews that as much information as possible should be gathered. Once the recruitment process is complete, you may access other non-public information, which will be essential to get a feel for how the company operates. Immersing yourself in this culture before taking up your post helps avoid pitfalls in your first few days. You may have identified important people, current projects, and areas of tension.
It is up to you to seize opportunities in a completely new environment without disrupting the corporate culture. You will need to step back if you are recruited internally for this position. You will already be familiar with the company’s culture and political dynamics. The risk is becoming trapped by the dynamics that are already in place, without being able to bring any added value or a new perspective.
Becoming part of the project and the team: The early days in your role as general counsel
Having assimilated the company’s culture, your initial period of working as a general counsel should be focused on becoming part of the project and the existing team.
Main priorities when taking over as new general counsel
When you take over as head of the legal team, it is important to take stock of current projects and priorities. Your first few days should be spent clearly identifying the key strategic priorities and focusing on them. These priorities need to be established early for implementation and initial evaluation during your first 100 days.
The first part of your 100 days should focus mainly on these priorities. This approach will enable you to avoid spreading yourself too thinly over medium- and long-term projects too early on, without having built the foundations for your work. Starting with the most pressing files places you at the heart of the company’s project.
Embody the role of team leader
As a general counsel, you will often manage a legal team that is developed to a greater or lesser extent. You are more than just a lawyer or legal expert. Successfully completing the first part of your first 100 days will involve being a team leader. Build on the strengths of your team to set strategic priorities and identify any weaknesses to be addressed later. The success of your first few weeks will depend on the trust you have in your colleagues and the quality of their output.
To lead your new team, it is critical to establish your authority whilst appreciating the work they do. Relationships with your up-line should also be carefully managed: be demanding in the feedback you request from the rest of the management team. It is important to identify areas for improvement early on to avoid persevering in the wrong direction.
The second half of your first 100 days as general counsel: focus on building the medium and long-term strategy
Once priorities have been identified and resolved, the second half of your first 100 days as general counsel should focus on the medium and long term. This is the time to put in place projects and work that will bear fruit after this first period.
Identify key issues
It is hard to appreciate the underlying problems after only a few days in a company. However, deep-seated blockages in legal strategies need to be identified quickly for success in a new role. The second half of your first 100 days should therefore focus on identifying those key issues.
In the current context of the pandemic, a general counsel plays a key role in bringing Covid-19 protocols into the company. This will entail thinking about the power dynamics identified within your legal team and the company. You should also consider factors external to the company – such as regulatory changes, litigation risks, legal risks, and competitors.
Lastly, evaluating the different resources available to you is essential. These days, this is achieved through new technologies and artificial intelligence. As general counsel, you are best placed to move innovative working methods towards digitalization and automation.
Use key priorities to build future objectives
The strategic priorities identified shortly after taking up your post have the advantage of providing an initial overview of what can be implemented and how effectively. It is essential not to neglect the evaluation of the development of these strategic priorities.
Initial feedback on what has been implemented in the short term will help you develop your next steps. If the implementation of these strategic priorities has not achieved the desired results, this is an opportunity to make corrections to your working arrangements.
A final note: this may be the right time to fully launch a process to digitize the company’s meetings or to review this process if it was already in place before you arrived.
Take stock of your first 100 days as general counsel
The 100-day mark is only significant if people notice it. Use this time to carry out an initial assessment. This review is an opportunity to show what has already been achieved and the value you have added. It also allows early lessons to be drawn from your new strategies to improve them or correct problems. It is also an opportunity to build team spirit and reassure your superiors.