As general counsel, you are your company’s central nervous system. Whether it’s sales, finance, human resources, information technology, the board, or the CEO, at some point they will need direction from you on how to proceed.  

At the same time, you need them to steer the company in the right direction. They are, after all, your business partners.

Your role in this dynamic world is to become a broker of internal relationships; someone who brings people and views together to make informed decisions. It’s imperative to corporate decision-making broadly and for you personally to be a commercial enabler and also the brand protector.

This cross-functional, collaborative aspect of your role provides you with a unique vantage point into the organization. The best GCs have used this opportunity to grow, experiencing the benefits of relationships that are cultivated deep and wide within their company.

“The requirement of the GC to network across the organization is more crucial now than ever. Businesses are more international and interconnected and are affected by lots of different risks posed by our digital world,” says Alistair Maughan, Technology Transactions partner at Morrison & Foerster.

Trust in Colleagues

As in any successful relationship, trust is the key to a GC’s relationship with colleagues across the company, but it can be intimidating for nonlawyers to speak to lawyers, and sometimes that “the legal function” is perceived as an obstacle to value creation. We know that lawyers are trained to be analytical, skeptical, and to look out for any potential risks, including misconduct. So how to overcome these stereotypes? Demonstrate empathy and authenticity; and, invest the time it takes to build your internal network.

The most successful internal network brokers approach colleagues in other departments when nothing is urgent or little is at stake. “You want to ask about them and show that you care,” says Sam Ross, general counsel at the online money transfer provider WorldRemit. “Otherwise it’s all transactional and people forget they’re supposed to be dealing with you.”

Ross says that by regularly meeting with his internal clients, he can also better tailor his services. “Some come to me with precise needs,” he said. “Others need more hand-holding. The secret is to balance that.”

You may already know that the most effective GCs are perceived as offering their colleagues much more than just legal advice, and in doing so deepen internal relationships.

“My best clients that I’ve developed came to me early and not necessarily for legal advice,” says Eugene Lao, vice president and deputy general counsel at electronic signature firm DocuSign. “They know I have broad experience and want to know what I think.”

Is Your Role as GC Being Redefined?

In a world where decision-making is speeding up and you need to balance the role of commercial enabler and risk manager, to what extent can you confidently rely on your internal network to make judgment calls?

A study of GCs on 60 psychometric scales by the executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates found that, relative to the CEOs and other general managers, GCs were 10 percent more attuned to others’ concerns. GCs were also seen as equal to those executives in being able to read others and be outgoing. It seems that you, as GCs, should be in a prime spot to be an internal relationship broker. Is there anything more you could do to genuinely get to know your colleagues and help them?  

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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