GC role still evolving, report finds

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The most valuable ‘hat’ for a GC will soon be strategic, rather than legal, a new survey has found.

Seventy-per cent of Canadian company directors surveyed in a new report predict that by 2020, in-house counsel will be more valuable as an adviser to the board and CEO, rather than serving as an ethical sounding board or ensuring best governance practices.

In the past decade, the number of GCs sitting on the executive team has risen from 81% to 93%, the report by Canadian company BakerGilmore said, predicting that the role of in-house counsel will continue to evolve.

Tanya Khan, ACC vice president and managing director, Australia and Asia-Pac said that in Australia now, only 11% of GCs are responsible for only the management of legal risk.

“It is widely accepted that general counsel must offer much more than sound legal advice,” Khan told Australasian Lawyer.

“Their knowledge of the law, along with commercial acumen, means they can meaningfully contribute in the areas of risk, strategy and compliance.

“GCs have a unique skill-set where they are effectively ‘looking around corners’ at the external environment, and facilitating the exchange of ideas and resolution of challenges within the organisation. 

“Due to this they may spot opportunities and enhance their organisation’s position in many areas not traditionally seen as ‘legal’ responsibilities.”

According to the report, the traits and competencies for GCs will need to change.  The top trait listed by company directors for GCs is sound judgement followed by integrity, ahead of legal expertise.

“What companies look for in a general counsel goes beyond a high level of legal skill,” said Lisa Gazis, Mahlab managing director.

“Companies want general counsel who are able participate in decision making at the highest levels and can be involved in strategic initiatives from inception.

“This has had a lot to do with the ever increasing regulatory environment which has made business more complex has increased  business risk as well as, greater competition and globalisation  which has meant greater overlays of complication.”