“We are in the business of helping our clients succeed—individually and organizationally. When our clients succeed, we succeed.” So says Art Foley, Womble Carlyle’s Director of Client Initiatives. These words were ringing in my ears as I studied the slides from an InsideCounsel webinar featuring as speakers Stephen Kaplan, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Connextions, Inc., and Karl Kilb, Director of Market Relations for Bloomberg Law.
In their presentation, titled “Strategic Partners: How the Role of General Counsel is Evolving and Adding More Value,” the speakers pointed to a number of factors that have transformed the General Counsel from a role as manager of the legal department to a trusted strategic advisor to the C-suite and the Board.
Among the factors fomenting this transformation are the emergence of inside lawyers as strategic thinkers, Sarbanes-Oxley and the financial meltdown that began in 2008. In essence, what Kaplan and Kilb were explaining how they can be viewed as critical members of the senior executive team. Among the gems they suggested to fellow inside counsel:
- Read books written for your CEO and other business executives
- Take mini-MBA courses, of, if one can afford the time, a full executive MBA
- Become an industry subject matter expert
- Delve deeply into the business by becoming a student of the business, understanding the reasons behind its biggest wins….and losses. Be part historian, part therapist and part fortune-teller.
- Hone in on and attend the “crucial meetings”
- Use technology to stay on top of industry trends, regulatory developments and industry outlooks.
This blog is concerned primarily with encouraging private practice lawyers and staff professionals to prepare for the new legal normal, so you may be wondering about the connection between this blog and a webinar of inside counsel discussing how to be a valued member of the C-Suite team. The answer lies in the first sentence above; to the extent that we in law firms can help inside counsel with Kaplan’s and Kilb’s suggestions, the more valued WE will become as lawyers and advisors. To put it bluntly, here is what I would do if I were a lawyer thinking about the list above:
- Send great business and executive books to inside counsel for them to read
- Offer mini-MBA courses, or at the very least offer business courses to inside counsel
- Invite inside counsel to meetings of one’s industry groups, both to learn and to share
- To the extent that we have long-term experience and a track record with a company, invest as much time as possible early in a new inside counsel’s tenure bringing him or her up to speed on what we know about the business. And always share ideas you have for how not just the law department, but the entire business, might advance.
- Make sure to keep inside counsel posted on any crucial meetings you hear about that they may not have heard about
- Share the firm’s technology, often acquired and operated within law firm Marketing Departments, to keep inside counsel up to speed on trends, developments and outlooks.