- Prioritize internal relationships & quick contract turnarounds for a strong approach to contracting.
- Successful GCs know how to mitigate risk without saying “no” to business stakeholders.
- GCs should get more involved (in everything).
When starting your journey as a new general counsel (GC), your initial focus might revolve around making a favorable impression on key individuals or taking on increased responsibilities. But, as your career grows, you should also contemplate the impact of your work and the legacy you want to leave behind.
A fascinating quote from a 2011 Harvard Business Review says “Sophisticated corporations look to general counsel to be a facilitator, someone who can play different roles—crisis manager, mergers expert, catalyst.”1 Eyes are opening inside enterprises and GCs can now be seen as true business partners.
In this article, we’ll explore the core principles for elevating or reshaping your brand as a GC by harnessing the power of contracts. A strong brand doesn’t just bring more influence, compensation, and respect; it also opens doors to the executive table, completely transforming the path of your career.
Before we begin, as you reflect on your contributions and perception, ask yourself the following questions:
- How has your GC brand developed over time?
- If it hasn’t meaningfully changed, why not?
- What areas do you need to improve / evolve to keep up with your business?
- Do you know executive expectations for your role?
- What can you do in the short / medium / long term to enhance the legal brand internally?
Prioritize internal relationships & quick contract turnarounds
The best legal teams aren’t bottlenecks; they’re business enablers. And speedy contract responses strengthen relationships. As a successful GC, providing timely feedback and approvals can significantly impact your brand within the organization.
Define your stakeholders
The question of “Who are my internal stakeholders?” within the company often resonates deeply with newly appointed GC, especially those transitioning from law firms to in-house roles. In actuality, your key stakeholders are multifaceted and spread across the entire organization.
Internal stakeholders include:
- The C-suite:
Whether your reporting line leads to the CEO or somewhere else, your role in providing legal insights that underpin strategic decisions is fundamental to your career trajectory. By maintaining a regular dialogue and offering updates on your team’s initiatives, you highlight your invaluable contributions to the company’s growth. Below are some examples of how you can build those relationships:
- Proactively Collaborate on High-Value Contracts
- Provide Contract Risk Reports
- Contract Compliance Workshops with the CRO & Sales Team
In your initial stages, channel your efforts towards supporting the sales team. One of their recurring challenges lies in the contract review process—drafting, adjusting, and securing approvals post-deal closure. By offering training, support, and streamlined processes, you demonstrate your commitment to their success and build strong, collaborative relationships. Here are a few examples to build trust and make sure the contracts are legally sound:
- Establish Efficient Workflows – Assess, review, and approve contracts swiftly
- Expedited Contract Review and Support
- Contract Templates and Automation
Those entrusted with monitoring spend across the company need easy access to contract-related data. Details such as renewal deadlines are indispensable for seamless budget management. By facilitating access to such critical information, you empower Procurement to shine in their roles.
- Collaborate on Vendor Negotiations
- Regular Contract Review Meetings
- Contract Renewal Planning
When presented with a contract that demands a rapid turnaround across any of those departments, don’t just aim to meet the deadline; strive to exceed expectations.
Shift away from being the office of “no”
GCs should refrain from using “no” excessively – it’s essential to balance risk management with a proactive, solution-oriented approach.
Embrace risk mitigation as a solution provider
Finding the right balance between business opportunity, legal concerns, and effective contract management presents a challenge when making decisions. Remember, the ultimate goal is to drive company success, not just mitigate risk. Rather than simply blocking initiatives or deals, strive to find creative ways to mitigate risks while enabling business growth. Here’s how:
- Collaborative Risk Assessment: Work closely with stakeholders to assess risks together. By involving them in the process, you encourage a sense of ownership and cooperation.
- Alternative Solutions: Propose alternative strategies or contractual clauses that address potential risks while keeping business objectives intact.
- Education and Training: Empower your colleagues with legal knowledge and best practices to help them make informed decisions that align with legal requirements.
By adopting a more collaborative and solution-driven approach, you transform from the “office of no” into a valuable asset to the organization. Your GC brand evolves into that of a trusted advisor who facilitates business success while safeguarding against legal pitfalls.
Get more involved (in everything)
Most GCs have navigated through complex situations, mastering the art of effective communication and logical problem-solving. The next step is to get deeply involved in contract-related matters across the organization to demonstrate your commitment and value.
Attaining such an impactful contribution requires fostering cross-functional relationships. However, it calls for more than the occasional happy hour. Rest assured, with the right approach, you can successfully meet this challenge and achieve your goals. Our biggest tip? Interdepartmental collaboration.
As highlighted by Modern Counsel, the distinction of being a truly great lawyer lies in one’s ability to be a business person first.2 Acknowledging and assessing risks in contracts is necessary, but it is the management and ownership of those risks that sets you apart and ensures job security. Employing a professional, persuasive, and confident approach is key to achieving this distinction.
1 Harvard Business Review article: https://hbr.org/2011/03/the-new-path-to-the-c-suite