General Counsel: The Strategic Legal Counsel
The General Counsel (“GC”) of today is a nimble executive, an issue-spotting and strategic intellectual who sees beyond silos and can speak to company-wide initiatives with a broad problem-solving perspective. GCs are a key member of the ever-burdened executive team, charged with the duty of providing operational and strategic leadership in a constantly changing environment. Effective GCs understand their organization’s business and identify pitfalls and the regulatory landscape governing the organization.
The GC’s command of regulatory and business considerations assists with the organization’s success and smooths the transition into new services or business models. Furthermore, the GC as an advisor is well appreciated by CEOs, CFOs, and COOs, who see the GC as a sounding board to safely “beta test” ideas, identify risks, and assess strategic changes that could have wide-ranging legal or business implications.
I have witnessed the importance of the GC advisor in my years advising in-house and in my current role, serving as an “outside fractional” GC for my clients who are not yet in a position to hire a full-time, seasoned GC. In-house legal teams are required to stay abreast of regulatory updates and are expected to answer complex legal questions on short notice. However, in practice, it can be difficult for an in-house team to be an expert in everything or to have experience with some of the more complex transformations facing its company. This advisory role is critical to emerging companies and can also provide key support to overly leveraged or entry-level in-house legal teams. Outside GC advisors can help support and provide strategic advice to the entire leadership team, effectively adding another executive to manage the workload without the expense of a full-time GC/CLO.
The accessible GC (whether in-house or an outside advisor) is key to a company’s forward momentum. The importance of open and frequent communication between the C-suite and the GC, especially in health care and other highly regulated industries, cannot be overstated. Whether by contract or regulation, the business rules of engagement change frequently and can drastically alter the operational framework of an organization. Inclusion of the GC at the early stages of decisions concerning market growth, business innovation, employment, and board communication will lead to an informed leadership team that takes the right path the first time. As a result, the GC’s strategic guidance should be considered a necessary component of a strong leadership team.
*Ebunola Aniyikaiye, an Associate in the Washington, DC, office of Epstein Becker Green, also contributed to the preparation of this article