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What execs want from their GCs and Legal teams

18 February 2022

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Anna Lozynski

Freelance General Counsel and Legal influencer.

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Over the last several months, I’ve been having conversations with C-suite executives about what they expect from their GC and legal teams.

Here’s what they all didn’t say:

  1. I’m looking for a traditional GC
  2. I want a good technical lawyer
  3. I want a yes person on my team
  4. I only want them to care about legal matters

Instead, the unanimous feedback was that CEOs and business execs want their lawyers to be business enablers. And in my view, that’s the ultimate gift.

Why is this important?

Lawyers and legal teams who do not operate with this new age philosophy end up lost at sea. They are simply not valued: by their boss, peers or organisation.

Having a collaborative and mutually respected GC to C-suite dynamic sets a tone at the top. If leveraged correctly, it inspires a different operating model - one that is anchored in continuous improvement, entrepreneurial spirit, sharp problem solving and learning, working with a strong sense of purpose, and positive partnership with stakeholders at all levels.

Here are six ways you can become a business enabler:

  1. Have an appetite for risk. In 2022, there’s no room for legal leaders and legal teams who want to operate with zero tolerance for risk. Risk appetite does not automatically mean strategic non-compliance.
  2. Have your say. If you’ve got a seat at the table, use it. Smathers, a Michigan based attorney working in the legal tech space, observes that 20th century lawyers were “I-shaped” - they had deep legal knowledge and skills - but 21st-century lawyers must be “T-shaped.” A T-shaped lawyer still has deep legal expertise but also has the ability to collaborate across many disciplines such as technology, business, data analytics and security.
  3. Be solutions focused. The job of an in-house lawyer is to provide the business with options moving forward, based on our skilled training. I’ve only had to yank the hand brake a handful of times during my in-house career. For 99% of problems, there’s a way or ways forward. Be the team that is known for using their expertise to find a way to achieve business goals.
  4. Know the business. Knowing the business from a legal perspective is very different to knowing the business. This is one of the ultimate privileges of leading and being in a legal team, I think. A good qualitative measure of whether you’re succeeding on this front is when your executive peers want to pick your brain about matters beyond legal. Or, when the CEO is away, they appoint you as their delegate on particular matters.
  5. Be transformative and track your results. Most executives will be able to clearly articulate what kind of legacy they want to leave. CEOs don’t get appointed to just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done - they are selected to drive growth, to disrupt, to evolve the company in some new way/s. They are clear on their mission, value and purpose, backed up by clear KPIs to measure their success. The absence of these in a legal team can cause cloudy leadership and in turn muddy the value of the legal team. Being more business minded in the way we operate and lead a legal function means aligning, and operating in accordance with, the business’ strategic objectives.
  6. Be in permanent beta. I love this term from The Garage Group. It means to be focused on continuous improvement and growth. It’s a mindset.

Gmail, for example, launched in 2004 but only left official beta in 2009, after millions of people were already using it. Jeff Bezos, founder/former CEO of Amazon, concluded every annual letter to shareholders by reminding readers, as he did in his first annual letter in 1997, that "it's still Day 1" of the internet and of Amazon.com.

What else would you add?

Interested in learning more about legal transformation? Learn about current trends, measuring and communicating legal value and how legal leaders are building influence within their organisations.

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