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Innovate, influence and inspire – top tips for GCs and in-house lawyers looking to get ahead

24 November 2015

What are the key imperatives GCs must consider as they scan the horizon and think about those skills that will best equip them over the coming years?

The recent GC Futures Summit, organised by Global Legal Post, was themed: innovating, influencing and inspiring the future. The Summit highlighted that the three "Is" of the future are entirely dependent on letting go of the past and really committing to new ways, new thinking and new behaviours.  The keynote speakers and panellists – a mix of GCs, technologists and specialist consultants – were united in the belief that the challenges now facing GCs and their teams mean that embracing the  three "Is" is a mantra for survival, not simply a "nice to have" and that re-engineering relationships with law firms is a big part of the equation. 

The role of the GC has changed beyond recognition in recent years and continues to change. Operating in a global environment against a backdrop of increasingly complex regulation, cyber fraud, bribery, terrorism and protecting reputation is all part of the day job.  That day job now comes with the added price tag of personal accountability in a way that previous generations of heads of legal never dreamt of.  What we learnt at the GC Futures Summit was that, while there is no prototype for the perfect GC, asking the right questions and being open to new ways of working will point you in the right direction – and the three "Is" are not a bad place to start:

Having in place automated systems such as contract management and e-billing allow you to concentrate on what's valuable to your business and to avoid getting bogged down in unnecessary checking and detail. This doesn’t have to be rocket science! Simply partnering with your law firm providers, for example, to agree an effective system for billing and collection could save hours of wasted time.

Insisting that you have a seat at the board table and that you or a team member are present at the right committees is key to being able to influence the direction a business takes. You can't advise if you don’t know what's going on. In today's world, it is positively dangerous for a GC not to have the ear of the CEO and the Board.

There has never been a better time to be an in-house lawyer. For all the risks and challenges, being a GC has evolved into a key position at the C-Suite table. Embrace it and learn to be the proactive critical friend the business needs to stay protected and ahead of its game.

Finally, more than ever, the relationship between in-house lawyers and their law firms needs perfecting; some would say fixing.

The combination of the right law firm or legal provider and the new style three "I"-led GC will offer the business the ultimate protection.  What did it suggest when the Conference co-chair – a highly respected consultant – stood up on stage, borrowed a hundred quid from the nearest GC, and asked which the GC would value in return: a splendid single malt whisky; a ticket to the French Open; or half an hour of a legal trainee's time sending an email to fix a meeting?

What did it say? First, that (at least some) GCs still experience some of the worst excesses of the hourly billing model and that, by and large, a transparent and effective billing process still remains the final frontier; and second that the era of unquestioning acceptance of law firms  by their GC clients  is long since gone – never to return. The three "Is" need to be as embedded in the relationship between law firm and GC as within the in-house team itself.

And the final takeaway?  GCs who innovate, influence and inspire will scoop the glittering prizes.  And those who don't will struggle to survive.