Henley Reid

Do you have what it takes to make it to General Counsel? How to ensure you are the best placed for promotion.

The role of General Counsel has evolved from respected senior legal advisor to sharp commercial strategist. Gone are the days where a General Counsel can operate in a legal silo, purely managing legal risk and exposure of the business. An effective General Counsel is expected to play the role of key business strategist, deeply involved in the commercial plans of the business, presenting proactive legal and business solutions to further corporate growth. It is also likely that the General Counsel may have the responsibility of Company Secretary, so knowledge of secretariat duties and corporate governance are also now expected.

If you are aiming for a promotion from in-house lawyer to General Counsel, you will need to ensure you are thinking and presenting as a sharp business advisor and commercial strategist, as well as a confident senior legal counsel. Being a strong lawyer becomes a given.

Here’s our checklist on what you should concentrate on in your role to ensure you’re ready for your promotion to General Counsel.

1. Mastery of key commercial objectives

This includes understanding the firm’s growth strategy, corporate objectives, pressure points and key financials. Ideally, you are well positioned to advise clearly on how the business can propel growth and initiate legal solutions to mitigate future risk. Ensure you play a part in advising the leadership team on the future planning and strategy of the business. This will lift the value of the legal advice you provide and help build your reputation as a business advisor rather than purely part of a legal team.

2. Confidence and communication

A strong General Counsel is highly effective at communicating the risks and legal issues behind any decision to management. To play a key role in your leadership team, your relationship with your key stakeholders must be one of mutual respect. Having strong communication skills and confidence within your organisation will mean these relationships have the best chance of success.

There can be a tendency within some organisations for key stakeholders to transfer risk onto the General Counsel in times of demand, putting them under pressure to make compromised decisions from a legal standpoint. In these instances, persuasion and confidence are key to delivering the most effective legal solution within an acceptable risk profile.

3. Sharp commercial acumen

This is imperative to the success of a General Counsel. Every legal decision is part of a wider strategic business decision, based on both commercial and legal analysis. A straight ‘no’ or ‘yes’ answer in response to legal issues may suggest being risk-adverse, or imply a lack of confidence in dealing with your key stakeholders. By employing your sharp commercial acumen and sound understanding of your business, you can analyse an issue completely and correctly to reach an informed legal decision which is commercial as well as appropriate from a legal perspective.

4. Managing cost efficiency on legal spend

Protecting the business from a legal and risk perspective while reducing legal costs remains an important consideration. Many in-house legal teams continue to outsource their larger transactions, while retaining more and more work within their own teams. A General Counsel will always be able to add more value within the leadership team if they possess an understanding of the cost base and profitability of a business, some knowledge of its finances and have a close relationship with key leaders in the finance team.