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6 top priorities for GCs following the Brexit vote

29 June 2016

Six clear priorities for in house legal leaders emerged from the dialogue that I had with Bruce Macmillan, the former in-house lawyer who heads our Centre for Legal Leadership

1. be the neutral navigator. There are a lot of emotions running around at present and many stakeholders whom you deal with (including within your team) will be holding views strongly and viscerally. It will be very easy for long term relationship damage to be done by assuming others' views and by communicating incautiously.

So, whatever your personal views are – elated or deflated, suppress them in your professional life and focus on being the calming, empathetic, future focused and ambiguity resolving professional  that you normally are.

2. be up to the minute.  Law in a business context needs lawyers who have a current and balanced understanding of what is going on. At the moment a lot is going on so you need to dedicate thoughtful time daily not just to what is going on domestically and internationally but on how it impacts your business and your key stakeholders – customers, suppliers, regulators, commercial landlords, employees etc. 

Challenge yourself to use sources of media that you would not normally select so that you have a rounded view and not just the view of people with a similar outlook to yourself.

3. there is a wider world… and it is still going on. So make sure that your and your team's and your colleagues' focus is proportionately balanced between what was concerning you before Thursday and the additional things that are now concerning you.

4. be on top of the detail of your current relationships. As ever knowing what exactly is in your key sales, purchase, property, lease, licence, employment and other relationships and in your key current litigation, commercial and regulatory negotiations etc is key so that you can be on top of your brief if a conversation about Force Majeure, exchange rate hedging, supply price change, etc comes up in a Board or management meeting or other context.

If you are not current on these things and do not have them easily to hand then now would be a good time to get up to date before substantive legal changes start to occur.

5. review your business' forward plans and make sure that you have thought through what legal assumptions they are based on – in that way, as those assumptions start to change in coming months, you will be better placed to help the business to analyse this quickly and effectively. In other words, try not to be surprised by the predictable.

6. review your law department business model, staff and resource plans – the one thing that is absolutely clear about the next few years is that there is going to be a lot more novel law happening which will be complex, often rushed and often potentially inadequately drafted.

It is therefore quite likely that your business' current legal risk appetite (whether formalised or not) will need to be reviewed and the type, skills and volume of staff and external resource needs may be quite different from what they were last Thursday.

Your conclusions may be that you need extra or simply different internal and external legal resources – or they might not. But in any event it would be prudent to make sure that you have a current and regularly refreshed view of what you need and why - and that this is shared and agreed with your CEO and CFO.

Great Navigators are most needed when times are stormy – keeping an eye on the overall direction, the wider weather pattern and the immediate squalls in order to help their Captain to choose the best available route.

It is likely that the next few years will be ones where the best GCs can truly make a substantial positive difference to their businesses – so it's time to rise to the challenge!