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Being an agile General Counsel in times of constant change

The term ‘agile’ has certainly had a workout over the past year of pandemic-related challenges. Organizations are functioning under new and ever-changing conditions, and yet at the same time business continues on as ‘usual’. In-house legal teams are facing increasing complexities in their role, requiring leadership which reacts and responds to the nimble legal and commercial landscape.

The role of General Counsel and their legal teams naturally expands in times of disruption, says Abbott Martin, Vice President, Gartner.

“When the law and stakeholder expectations are unstable and sometimes at odds, legal departments must provide operational clarity and build the corporate resilience to move forward.”

Adopting an agile skillset enables General Counsel to act swiftly, adapt, and remain flexible, while maneuvering their team and the wider organization through times of constant flux. But what does being agile look like for the General Counsel?

Whether it’s an intrinsic skill or an acquired behaviour, being agile provides a myriad of positive outcomes both for the individual and the environment they work and live in. Members of the Forbes Coaches Council outlined 15 qualities which define an agile leader, including:

  • Being accepting and present
  • Being comfortable being uncomfortable
  • Always listening
  • Learning continuously
  • Being able to deal with constant disruption
  • Creating inclusive and empowered teams
  • Cooperating courageously.

Rather than a buzzword, these qualities give the term ‘agile’ relevance to the role of General Counsel, where leading by example provides a way for the team and wider organization to see and emulate the skills.

We’ve identified four areas where being agile leads to greater performance and outcomes for the team and for the organisation.

Build an agile team

Legal operations of the future will be agile, value-centric, and tech-enabled, says CLOC’s The Future of Legal Operations report. Being agile means delivering a structure and culture which lends itself to supporting changing dynamics, with the ability to effectively allocate and empower resources with the organizational framework.

Learning from this definition, General Counsel lead their team by assigning work to the right resource level, increasing productivity, lowering costs, and engaging team members. There’s also  the opportunity to centralize repetitive work into centres of excellence, allowing other resources to commit to areas requiring more nuanced support. Agile teams possess a culture which empowers individuals to make decisions and react quickly in a fluid environment, and provides ongoing development so they can remain confident.

Key to providing transparency and greater value is understanding the current state of play and responding to areas which are underperforming. Analysing trends with LawVu’s reporting and analytics means if specific issues are present, such as a spike in litigation work from a department, flagging KPIs, or an increase in outside litigation resources, the data is easily extracted to determine the best way forward. Furthermore, the Matter Management platform ensures resourcing and task allocation is transparent, providing the base from which to action change in a real-time setting.

Review risk

Inherent in the job description of the General Counsel is the mitigation of risk. Meeting risks in volatile, uncertain times requires agile risk management practices, says McKinsey’s Meeting the Future report, focusing on tapping into people with the right skills and knowledge in real time, convening cross-functional teams, and authorizing them to make rapid decisions. In order to determine who needs to be involved in managing a specific risk and how they should work together, there is the need to understand the nature of the risk, its significance, and how quickly it may impact the organization.

A practical approach to prepare for risk is to create playbooks assigning responsibilities and tasks to specific scenarios, resulting in a level of preparedness for when an urgent situation does arise.

Embrace technology

An agile approach to team building requires resources and tools to support and enable success. COVID-19 mandated lockdowns and restrictions to normal working environments can mean team members are working from physically and socially distanced locations for extended periods of time, often with little certainty of when a return to the office might be.

Tools to support the move to remote working enable General Counsel to provide the team with flexibility and connectedness, while maintaining a seamless workflow regardless of where members are. One example is LawVu’s Conversations tool, which facilitates communication between team members in real-time, ensuring continuous interactions and engagement within the legal team. Conversations consolidates emails, matter comments, and chats into an easy-to-access universal sidebar, replicating the in-house stream of communications in real-time.

Support  the CEO

The role of General Counsel spans the legal and commercial worlds, merging the two to provide comprehensive advice for optimal business outcomes. Supporting the CEO is key to business success for all matters, from advising on a political issue, to ensuring an organization’s reputation is kept intact. 

According to Gartner, just 8 percent of General Counsel perform a truly executive role in their organization, with 59 percent dealing only with legal work and guidance rather than top-level strategy. Defaulting to strictly legal activities fails to incorporate meaningful extra-legal business considerations and limits strategic work and business guidance, ultimately limiting contribution to corporate outcomes. Being agile and pivoting towards more strategic work brings General Counsel closer to executive decision making and execution, and the ability to add even more value and influence to an organization. 

There’s never been a better time to adopt a more agile stance as General Counsel, providing your team and wider organization with a way forward which embraces change and effective outcomes, all played out in real time.

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