The evolution of the role of in-house lawyer is, arguably, nothing new. For some time, the GC has been transitioning into a central pillar of the business, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis. In more recent times, the pandemic has accelerated the GC’s move closer into the corporate spiderweb as in-house legal teams have been required to adapt to an intimidating array of new business concerns. In particular, issues around compliance, ESG, cyber security and data privacy have emerged as key challenges for businesses which require a discerning legal eye if they are to be tackled with rigour. As such, the GC has taken up a frontline position at the heart of the leadership team as the calm voice helping to steer the ship through rough waters. This is perhaps no better demonstrated than by GCs being tasked with spearheading their company’s crisis management committees, which has become the standard over the course of the pandemic.
With so many business-critical concerns now falling at their door, what does a well-rounded GC look like and how can they best be leveraged within businesses post-pandemic?
Out with the old, in with the tech-savvy
In particular, there has been a surge in demand for tech-savvy GCs who can leverage the transition to remote working and streamline legal operations. Candidates who really understand the nuts and bolts of new digital processes can prove to be hugely valuable, cost-effective business assets.
The permanent move to hybrid and remote working models also means it is vital to have a robust data privacy framework that stands up to remote working. As such, it has become incredibly important for GCs to have more than a passing familiarity with data privacy regulations – they must have an in-depth understanding to help smooth the ongoing hybrid working transition. Businesses would do well to ensure their GC is central to any decisions about how to evolve and future-proof the business in line with increased data privacy demands.
Unpacking the ESG agenda
The increasing importance of ESG concerns on the boardroom agenda has been well documented, but with ESG reporting regulations on the horizon, businesses are scrambling to lay out comprehensive strategies. In fact, a recent FTI survey reported that 86% of companies have increased resource spending on ESG initiatives in the past year. For many, understanding legal requirements will have been central to this resource deployment. GCs who are able to understand the incredibly broad scope of the ESG landscape have become essential to business planning.
Maintaining team culture for the hybrid age
As well as new opportunities of an expanded remit, there are of course also challenges that come with this evolution, particularly in the wake of the transition to remote working. Traditionally, the senior leadership team have felt the need to be seen as present in the office. However, now, the first thing that candidates ask is what the company’s flexible working policies are. Going forwards, embedding team culture through robust hybrid working models will be vital to recruiting and retaining the best in-house legal talent.
Business leaders must also address the complex generational divisions over the future of work. For instance, we have seen how long-serving and more senior in-house lawyers generally prefer working remotely, while the more junior are keen to be in the office. However, little attention has been paid to the gap in the middle; those 5 – 15 years into their career are keen to have flexible working arrangements that allow them to build a sense of culture within their team. Ultimately, empowering GCs to operate flexibly will smooth their integration within the wider business.
To get the very best out of its in-house lawyer, a business must strike a balance between fully integrating them into the heart of the business, whilst also allowing them to have independence. As a deep knowledge of an ever-expanding remit becomes integral to the GC’s role, they are in a prime position to predict, advise on, and direct the future of the company. In-house lawyers cannot be beholden to the C-suite – they must be offered a seat firmly at the table.