General Counsel and Company Secretary "Connect": Being a Better General Counsel and Company Secretary - Learnings from the Law Firms


Last week, I was delighted to be able to host another “Connect” Drinks, Dinner and Discussion event and welcome a brilliant band of General Counsel and Company Secretaries from a broad spread of backgrounds and organisations, including public, private and sporting bodies.

As with all “Connect” events, the overriding objective is to afford senior in-house lawyers and company secretaries the opportunity to meet other members of their peer group in an informal and relaxed environment, build new contacts, discuss common issues and hopefully find solutions and ideas to grow professionally, adding value to the organisations they work for.

On the deck for Chatham House discussion this time around was “Being a Better General Counsel and Company Secretary – Learnings from the Law Firms”, for which we were fortunate to be joined by two leading partners from different City firms, one specialising in dispute resolution and the other M&A, to share their candid experiences of working with General Counsel and Company Secretaries across a range of complex issues and how to get the best from the client-firm relationship.

As a former General Counsel and Company Secretary myself, I am all too aware of how important the relationship with the external law firm is and the value that can be gained or lost on the strength of that relationship.

The discussion flowed alongside the wine, with a number of learnings coming onto the table:

  • Law Firm Conflicts: Consider as a client whether you really need your law firm to be restricted from acting for other clients in the same space as you. Could there be a more pragmatic approach, such as ringfencing the specific team that acts for you? Is a formal contractual restriction necessary or can this be better handled informally?
  • Client Conflicts: So far as possible, try and be transparent with the firm as to the status of key client matters. A divergence of views on material matters at Board or C-Suite level is not uncommon. Transparency with your external advisors so that they are ready and prepared for shifts in direction or timing may be crucial.
  • Understanding the Client: One of the points that was shared by a number of attendees was how important it is for the law firm to take time to understand the client’s business; what their business objectives are, their financial and operational performance; and any challenges that they are currently experiencing.  This flows two ways though: General Counsels and Company Secretaries also need to take the time to understand their external lawyers’ practices – it’s a two-way street.
  • Regular Contact: Following on from the above, clients want their advisors to keep in regular contact and not let the relationship drift fromsix months to a year without there being contact. But again, as the client, you will sometimes need the urgent attention of your advisors, so make sure you are on their map and keep in touch.
  • Fees: Be realistic in expectations from your law firm, and make sure you have right sized the profile of the firm and the amount of work to be performed within your legal budget. Horses for courses.
  • Legal Tech and AI: How is legal tech and AI being used by the firm to increase efficiency, deliver a better work product, saving you – the client – time and money? Engage with your firm to understand how it may be benefiting you, now or in the future, learning from the firm’s experience.

Much of the above comes back to a couple of simple points:

  1. Invest in creating a long-term relationship of mutual trust and transparency.
  2. Be thoughtful as to what you are asking for so expectations on both sides are understood.

I hope that connecting with peer group members and sharing experiences may help General Counsel and Company Secretaries grow their careers.

If you are a General Counsel or Company Secretary and would like to find out more about what Major, Lindsey & Africa and I are doing to help grow careers, legal teams and businesses, please do get in touch.


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