6 business-minded tips for general counsel responsibilities

The modern general counsel’s mantra is “business leader, lawyer second.” To be the best in the business, a general counsel must be both a lawyer and a strategic business analyst, working hand in hand with the company’s other departments. A major shift in the role of GCs in strategic risk management and cost control was accelerated by COVID-19. Only time will tell if this trend continues or not in the years to come.

Having an MBA isn’t mandatory, so don’t worry about it. However, new challenges have emerged, as the role of the general counsel has expanded to include not only providing legal counsel but also improving the efficiency and profitability of the company.

You’ll be able to handle these new business responsibilities with the help of a few simple strategies, such as utilising new legal technologies and collaborating with other departments.

Use data-driven decision-making to take on the role of general counsel.

In the EY Law Survey of 2021, GCs ranked “a greater use of technology” as their top cost-saving strategy. Advanced legal technology begins by automating low-value administrative tasks, saving both time and money. Legal technology, however, provides the most significant benefit of all: the ability to access comprehensive legal operations data. This information is critical for gaining a better grasp of your current spending and for making data-driven decisions that will help your company become more cost-effective.

The following key areas of performance are monitored by legal software:

  • Total legal costs, cost per matter by practise area, internal vs. external legal spend, etc.
  • List of matters, including their statuses and the dates they were worked on.
  • Invoices, guideline violations, accruals, etc. are all included in the bill.
  • Hourly rates and average cycle times for each vendor are included in the vendor list.

Using these metrics, you’ll be able to get a clear picture of your company’s current performance and identify areas for improvement. Vendor data, for example, enables you to compare spending across vendors and identify areas where work can be consolidated. You can also compare the average lifecycle times of similar matters handled by different law firms. Set realistic deadlines with vendors based on this information, and make sure they don’t drag out work beyond what is necessary.

Without this kind of information, GCs are unable to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company’s bottom line. The American Trucking & Transportation Insurance Company’s GC and Chief Claims Officer, Trevor Uffelman:

Prior to SimpleLegal, I was completely oblivious to what was going on in the department because I was blind.” I’m now able to run a more efficient legal department thanks to dashboards and reports.”

When pitching your C-suite to bring on new legal technology, explain these business-oriented benefits. Experts in the field will vouch for you: Gartner predicts that spending on legal technology will “triple through 2025 as general counsel face unprecedented pressure both in terms of managing legal workload and driving efficiency in their departments.” In the long run, the benefits of utilising legal technology far outweigh the initial outlay.

Is becoming a data-driven general counsel something you’d like to learn about? Here are some of our best advice.

Consider using non-traditional legal services to reduce your external costs.
While traditional outside legal services charge by the hour, you can save money by using alternative fee arrangements and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs).

In order to do so, here is how:

Predictable flat rates are provided by AFAs.

There are no surprises from timekeepers billing legal work by the hour when you use an AFA. You only have to pay a fixed price. As a result, you will be able to create more accurate budgets in the future. Negotiate AFAs with your team and make sure they emphasise how AFAs also benefit law firms (they’ll know how much money to expect and there will be a lot less billing issues, for example).

Faster turnaround times and lower fees are ALSP advantages.

Due to their lower rates and use of technology, ALSPs are typically more cost-effective than large law firms, but they do not compromise on quality. An ALSP Percipient client saved $384,000 in legal fees over the course of 18 months. As a result, “organisations that already use [ALSPs] are eight times more likely to say they want to expand their use,” EY 2021 Law Survey found.

Increase the amount of money spent on developing internal talent.

In the EY Law Survey of 2021, 78% of GCs said that relying less on outside legal counsel and more on in-house counsel saves money. Corporate legal departments may not have enough staff to handle the volume of work that comes their way. The best way to avoid costly employee turnover and burnout is to invest heavily in the current pool of available talent.

In order to help your in-house legal department, you can:

  • Automating tedious or repetitive tasks with time-saving tools. It was found that 79% of Deloitte’s 2021 State of Legal Operations Survey participants reported that “attorneys are taking on too much administrative work.”
  • As a member of the executive team, you have the ability to make a difference. In-house counsel should be able to focus on higher-level issues if they are able to advocate for legal technology in the company’s senior management.
  • Increasing the amount of training done on-site rather than outsourcing. Also, 71% of legal operations professionals said their company “did not have the right learning and development opportunities to support business needs,” Deloitte found.
  • Continuing education courses and webinars are a great way to help employees advance their careers, whether they’re interested in learning new management techniques or legal strategy approaches.

Being able to connect with your coworkers on a human level. If you’re working in a remote location, it’s important to take the time to check in on your employees’ mental health. A virtual happy hour or team dinner can do wonders for your team’s morale outside of the office. Having a great general counsel means that you value your staff as a person, not just a resource.

Assign responsibilities to the general counsel for cybersecurity and data privacy

The 2021 ACC Chief Legal Officers Survey found that cybersecurity was the “most important issue area for businesses.” This reduces both financial and legal risks due to reduced data breaches and subsequent regulatory fines.

With the help of IT, you’ll be able to ensure legal compliance with complex data privacy regulations while allowing IT to focus on identifying and addressing security vulnerabilities. This reduces the risk of costly noncompliance with applicable laws and lawsuits from breaches, which improves legal ops’ efficiency.

Team up with IT to create and review cybersecurity training and an incident response plan as another layer of protection.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss some additional strategies for ensuring the privacy of sensitive data.

Improve cross-departmental working relationships

You can think of your company’s various business units as gears in a machine. The machine won’t work properly if there is any friction between them. Unfortunately, issues like a lack of shared digital tools, poor communication skills, or ineffective workflows can quickly lead to tension between legal and other departments.

Managing law firm accruals, for example, is a common area of concern. In most legal departments, it’s difficult to collect and track these estimates manually, which leads to problems for accounting when they receive unexpectedly high bill. Accountants are usually responsible for contacting vendors to dispute charges, despite the fact that legal has a better relationship with them.

Find out what frightens accounting and salespeople about working with legal by talking to them. After that, solicit input from your team and report back to the other departments with suggestions for how you and they can move forward and collaborate better. Problems that impede productivity can be solved more effectively if they are approached from a different perspective.

Advice: A legal spend management solution makes life easier for non-legal departments, as well. Pro tip: In this SimpleLegal blog post, we’ll show you how.

Participate actively in efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.

A 2020 McKinsey study found that “the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability,” which speaks to how different viewpoints lead to better business solutions. Historically, the legal profession has lagged behind other professions when it comes to diversity and inclusion. You should lead the charge with both your own team and your vendors if you’re in a general counsel position.

Diversification efforts within an organisation

Diversity metrics are tracked by just 16% of legal departments at small companies (less than $1 billion in annual revenue). Collecting data on your team’s diversity can help you identify specific areas for improvement, much like spending data points can help you figure out how to optimise internal cost control.

Efforts to increase the number of vendors

Vendors are increasingly being held responsible by in-house legal departments for meeting diversity standards like the Mansfield Rule.. “Take their work elsewhere or cut fees” if their law firm partners do not comply, Bloomberg quotes corporate counsel at HP, Novartis, and Facebook.

You can ensure that your law firm partners share your company’s diversity values by following these four steps:

Law firms should be given clear guidelines to follow.

  • Inquire about the diversity of outside counsel.
  • Compile the number of hours worked by a variety of timekeepers
  • Consistently communicate with outside legal counsel


Managing a company’s legal affairs is no longer just about being a top lawyer. Whatever your level of experience, we understand that it can be difficult to keep up with everything that is going on. That’s why we built our Learning Center: to provide time-crunched GCs and their teams with useful resources that will help them succeed in the future.

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