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The evolution of the General Counsel role

  • Publish Date: Posted 10 months ago
  • Author:by Jake Kelly

Legal recruitment expert Jake Kelly explores the evolution of the role of the General Counsel (GC)...

​In an ever shifting Legal landscape, the role of General Counsel has its own unique set of challenges and demands. Let's consider hiring practices, risk management, and how in-house counsel has the capacity to unpick delicate legal issues.

Changes to the General Counsel role

The role of GC has evolved exponentially throughout the years, transforming from an advisory role to one that encompasses strategic business decision making. This evolution calls for a new way of thinking, typically characterised by adaptability and an understanding of what motivates a client. This means that the key to effectiveness in an in-house General Counsel role lies in understanding what drives different people within an organisation.

This clarity around what motivates senior managers, employees and stakeholders across a business allows Legal professionals to provide relevant advice and insights, whatever the scenario. When discussing Legal issues that are not part of the everyday order of events, such understanding of human motivations becomes vital. This is because the ability to balance risk with client goals is a skill that is honed with such understanding.

Moreover, this capability to adapt, understand motivations and to balance risks with goals is not something that is confined to dealing with exceptional situations, but also delivering quality Legal advice in all situations. This emphasises the importance for GCs to develop and finesse these skills and subsequently apply them in their roles.

Adaptability also signals a willingness to embrace the changes that are causing the Legal landscape to shift, meaning that GC roles now, more than ever, command an increased level of agility. This evolution can be largely attributed to the rise of technology, which has brought about new trends and developments that are transforming the Legal profession.

Understanding and adapting to these changes is not just crucial for survival, it’s also the key to leveraging the opportunities that come with these transformations. General Counsels who navigate and capitalise on these changes will become a leading force amid a host of new Legal services, paving the way for future career success.

The evolving GC role highlights the importance of taking a holistic approach to Legal advice, by taking into account the client motivations, balancing of risk with goals and the willingness to welcome change.

Keeping abreast of digital transformation

The rise of technology across all industries - and its profound impact on the Legal sector in particular - has driven a new level of adaptability and learning for General Counsels. These professionals now need to grasp the fundamental inner workings of emerging tech to continue delivering dependable Legal advice.

In addition to understanding current developments and all that they have to offer, it’s also important for Legal professionals to anticipate the impact of future technologies.

For instance, the emergence of AI software such as ChatGPT has the potential to further transform the Legal profession, by automating routine tasks, while raising new questions around ethics. This will have the knock on effect of challenging established norms and the traditional roles and practices of GCs. What they must do in response is to maintain professional ethics and provide balanced legal advice, despite the transformative effects of technology.

It would be easy to get bogged down by the minutiae of such technologies and a better way of staying in control is to understand their basic principles and functions. This will allow General Counsels to navigate the Legal opportunities - or indeed challenges - they might bring. Adopting this approach will enable Legal professionals to strike a balance between leveraging technology to their best advantage while maintaining a human touch within their role.

In addition to this, focusing on principles that are always relevant - irrespective of technological changes - is important as this will assist in understanding those all-important client motivations, balancing of risk and embodying adaptability.

The role of the GC therefore encompasses technology and more traditional Legal concepts. The opportunities lie in embracing said technology, understanding its impact and adapting to the changes it brings.

The future of the General Counsel role

The pathway for a General Counsel as they strive to better serve their clients is fraught with many challenges. They include rapid changes to business environments and societal norms, coupled with the aforementioned progression of technology and the stresses of managing risk in uncertain times. This means that to succeed in this ever-evolving landscape, GCs must adapt through continuous learning and growth.

The traditional approach of focusing solely on Legal risk is no longer sufficient and General Counsels must now balance it with achieving commercial goals and better serving their clients. This balance requires General Counsels to understand the business’s overarching objectives, the risks involved in achieving them, all while providing advice that meets those goals, without unnecessary negative exposure.

This shift in approach means that GCs are now just as much business advisors as they are lawyers and are increasingly relied upon to contribute to their organisation’s overall growth and prosperity.

That said, now is a pivotal time for the Legal profession, with a host of exciting opportunities in place for those willing to adapt and thrive in this new era of law.

If you'd like to discuss hiring for your legal team or if you're looking for your next legal job, from lawyers, paralegals, and corporate governance to heads of legal, company secretaries, and general counsels, get in touch with our Legal recruitment expert, Jake Kelly - jkelly@merje.com / 0203 637 1604