Today, there are many kinds of general counsel with different roles and responsibilities. They span industries of all shapes and sizes, at public and private companies, both large and small.
However, there’s one common thread you’ll notice when hiring a GC these days: This isn’t the same one-dimensional general counsel role of the past.
Due to the complexities of globalization, a more stringent regulatory environment, and a recent storm of social and geopolitical issues, GCs are engaged regularly beyond the boundaries of the traditional legal skill set.
This new role—“GC plus,” if you will—is more in line with the C-suite ranks.
In fact, reports in recent years indicate that upwards of 90% of GCs are members of the executive management team.
Additionally, while risk mitigation is still a priority, the modern GC is much more than a watchdog who helps their organization navigate legal pitfalls.
If you’re in the market for a general counsel, it’s critical to understand how this function has changed in recent years and how you can shape the role to attract the most capable, qualified, and exciting candidates for your company.
More than “Just a lawyer”: The GC’s rise to prominence
For many years, GCs were solely responsible for legal matters. Then compliance. Now, these areas are the minimum most general counsel are tasked with overseeing.
This role has morphed steadily over time, as have the expectations of lawyers looking to fill it. No longer do candidates want a strict legal advisor job where they are confined to the sidelines.
Modern GC candidates seek to be holistic, executive-level business strategists who impact the organization in a meaningful way, have a seat at the table, and are a valued business partner (who just happens to be a lawyer).
Although change was already well underway, the pandemic accelerated this shift to broader GC duties.
As CEOs grappled with return-to-office structures, international issues, HR matters, communications, and general crisis management, they increasingly sought the perspectives and advice of their general counsel.
The GC had already become pivotal to other areas as well, such as environmental, health and safety (EHS); security; communications; government relations; and general policy matters. In some cases, their role became so significant that it made sense for them to assume responsibility for some of these functions.
As a result, having a GC and legal team that know and understand the business—and utilizing their capabilities—brings greater success for companies on every level.