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On Monday, we posted part I of a series that takes a look at the Association of Corporate Counsel's findings in a publication they researched called "Skills for the 21st Century General Counsel." The ACC surveyed GCs, directors, executive recruiters and CEOs to find out what GC skills were valued, how much they were valued, and what skills will matter in the future.
Part I discussed the importance of the GC as the leader of the legal department, which is perhaps the most obvious aspect of being GC. Today, we look at GC as the "Counselor in Chief" as the ACC calls it.
One GC described his counseling of executives as "corporate hand-holding," with the board becoming more reliant on the advice of GCs, especially in the wake of new laws like Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, that expose the board to more liability. Not surprisingly, the GCs surveyed with the most experience valued counseling more highly.
It's one thing to be a great lawyer, it's another to be able effectively communicate legal risks and principles to non-lawyers, in a way that they can fully understand. A truly effective GC must be able to communicate, highlight potential legal issues, and be a good listener.
You don't want to be seen as the enemy -- or the attorney that gets in the way of business decisions. You want to be seen as part of the business team, and your knowledge of the business is key here. Do what you can to establish a good rapport with the CEO and board members.
Remember Who You Represent
While you want to be seen as a team player, you also need to retain enough independence to remind the CEO and board that you represent the company, and not them. You want to get close to the CEO and the board -- just not too close.
GCs, in addition to being the fearless leaders of their departments, are also the "counselors in chief." To effectively counsel, the GC must have a certain level of "emotional intelligence" to counsel executives in difficult situations; must effectively communicate to non-lawyers about legal issues and ramifications; and must be able to "sit at the table" with the board, while at the same time preserving enough independence to recognize that the company, not the board, is the client.
What skills do you think future GCs will need to utilize? Let us know on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.