Elevating the role of the GC

How to meet the growing expectations of boards and investors 

The role of the General Counsel has changed over time and differs across jurisdictions. As legal and compliance work increasingly attracts the interest of boards and investors, the GC is becoming a more central figure in commerce and industry. GCs also seem to have become the custodians of the reputations of their businesses, perhaps not in the standard job description, but most notably when disaster strikes.

Consistent with Deloitte’s analysis of other members of the C-suite, LMC identifies four roles of the GC (and if all four roles are played by the GC, we do generally regard the GC as a board-level position).

A changing world requires a new approach to law

Role 1: Ambassador
The first role is that of an ambassador, the internal and external personification of legal issues and legal risk. In major matters, this is the person who leads discussion with counterparties, regulators, public authorities, and external counsel; who builds respect and trust with key stakeholders; who is the first point of contact for leaders who need legal help; and who develops relationships across their organisations.

Role 2: Strategist
Second is the strategist. This person rises above the turmoil of daily legal service to ensure long-term stability in legal support for the business. The strategist is involved across the life cycle of strategic initiatives—new markets and products, acquisitions, investigations, disputes, and more. The legal strategist sits next to the CEO.

Role 3: Steward
The third role is that of the steward. Much of the responsibility here is for risk management, but, in this capacity, the GC also protects the reputation of the business and oversees compliance, contracting and governance.

Role 4: Operator
Finally, the operator fulfils a role to run the legal department as a business and is responsible for operations, technology, data, innovation, process, project management, as well as supplier selection.

These four roles can only be undertaken successfully if GCs have a deep understanding of the markets in which they operate and a complete familiarity with the culture, values, strategic direction and potential risks of their businesses. One of the most significant recent developments in the world of in-house departments is the growing number of appointments of chief operating officers, also known as directors of operations or chiefs of staff. GCs who create these roles are often frankly acknowledging that in many legal departments it is not possible for one person to be ambassador, strategist, steward, and operator. COOs take on the role of operator and so are responsible for the day-to-day running of the business. This is a development that Deloitte welcomes. We also welcome collaboration amongst COOs from legal departments, the best example of which is CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium), a rapidly expanding community of COOs that has come together to share best practice, to educate, and collectively drive change in the way that legal services are delivered.

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