Minding the Resources Gap


08 Oct 2018

With your plates already full, many of you are nonetheless getting second helpings. GCs, for some time now, have been asked to assume responsibilities for functions beyond legal, such as human resources, corporate communications, and compliance. At start-ups, these additional responsibilities are often baked into the GC’s job description from the beginning. 

At the same time, rapid development of new technologies and the ubiquity of data have been spurring new regulations and concerns around security and privacy that were not present just 10 years ago. And the responsibility of addressing those issues has also landed on the GC’s plate.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the question of resources is top of mind for many GCs. How do you align company resources with the most pressing priorities? Simply defining what those priorities are can be no small challenge. Giving them the time and resources they need is often an even bigger one.

In our General Counsel Up-at-Night Report, we identified areas where the importance of an issue and resources devoted to it are not proportionately aligned. Take, for example, the issues of privacy and data security and risk and crisis management. Results from our survey of in-house counsel showed a 22 percentage point and 17 percentage point difference, respectively, between importance and time devoted to those issues. 

How can GCs manage growing demands proportionately?

Part of the answer is “good team and knowledge management,” says Kristina Ehle, co-managing partner of Morrison & Foerster based in Berlin, having previously worked as an in-house counsel. “If someone in your department leaves, for example, you have to make sure you can transfer the know-how of this person to the rest of the team,” says Ehle. “This is an area where I see a lot of companies struggle.”

GCs, especially those at smaller companies with relatively few resources, also need to know how to get smart fast on new regulation, legislation, and other key developments that impact their company and industry. That means staying in constant communication with key regulators and industry organizations and joining a peer support group.

“The issues we face as a disruptive business are specific and often novel,” says Karen Kerrigan, Chief Legal Officer of the investment crowdfunding platform Seedrs and executive committee member of the Disruptive GC Network. “The old style ‘power point and canapés’ retrospective legal update sessions don’t work for us. Rather, we want to define the agenda of current issues and work quickly with external counsel to problem solve with a forward-looking mindset.”

As Eugene Lao, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at electronic signature firm DocuSign, notes, “it’s also important for in-house counsel to appreciate where their company is in its lifecycle. A young start-up developing new technologies will not have the same risk profile of a large, established, regulated public company.”

 “Lawyers in-house need to recognize that there is not a one-size-fits-all risk management theory,” he says. “The risk posture of a company evolves over a period of time. The lawyer’s role in that process has to evolve as well.”

Is your role as GC being redefined?

No matter where you are in your career, it seems that the GCs plate will be continually filled with new challenges and your remit will continually expand. When it comes to digesting everything on your plate, what will make the difference: excellent team and knowledge management, internal and external support network, or the time and space to regularly step back to assess your company’s priorities and your purpose? Maybe it’s all of the above.

This post is part of a thought leadership series, “The GC {RE}DEFINED,” which explores how technology is reshaping the role of the GC.



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