Beyond the Law – Out with the General Counsel and in with the Chief Horizon Scanner


I recently attended the Economist’s 20th General Counsel Summit in London. A brilliant event, rightfully reputed for the strong network of people it brings together. Several different themes were up for discussion at the event, all with one common underpinning: the role of the General Counsel is vastly different now than what it was just a handful of years ago. Crisis, conflict, artificial intelligence and ESG are but a few factors that have contributed to that change, but it is crystal clear that to succeed in today’s landscape, a general counsel must consider themselves so much more than just a lawyer.

The last few years have challenged the role of the general counsel immeasurably. Even for those adept at dealing with crisis, it was impossible to forecast a global pandemic, several major international conflicts and a number of other socially challenging scenarios. Through the last few years, general counsel have had to adapt and respond (in record time) to both internal and external requirements without precedent. This would have been tough in any circumstance, but the challenge has been even more cumbersome as a result of the shifting regulatory scenarios and technological developments around the world. As a result, in today’s day and age, aside from clearing the path for successful business, the general counsel must be courageous, resilient, operationally honest, able to embrace criticisms, empathetic, able to provide psychological security to the legal team and always ready to make the best out of a crisis—a challenging agenda for any senior leader.

It is not all bad, however. Privileged is the role of the general counsel, to be able to play such a key role in a constantly shifting global business landscape. A privilege not to be taken for granted in such critical times. In their position of trust, the “General Counsel+” must learn how to give prominence to environmental, social, governance and technological advancements in a way that gives the company a competitive advantage. A beacon to the business and a trailblazer in technology and geopolitically driven business conversations, the modern day general counsel may be more aptly dubbed as the Chief Horizon Scanner.

With such a hefty agenda, success is entirely dependent on the general counsel’s belief that purpose is not just driven from the top-down and that the strength of their role is entirely dependent on their ability and foresight to build and develop first-class legal teams. Legal teams thrive when general counsel are thoughtful in creating a psychologically safe environment. Values are key, and success often happens when legal teams share the same North Star as their general counsel and are governed by mission statements that link up with that of the company. It is these teams who, in crisis, come together to show what the company javascript:void(0);really stands for. It takes courageous leadership, a true championing of diversity, a strong sense of ethics, independence and trust, an ability to prioritise the planet and a mind that is open to artificial intelligence for a general counsel to build such teams. Then, and only then, can they revolutionise the business.


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