Credit Suisse Asset Management EMEA head of legal Jason Edel talks to The Lawyer about the essential non-legal skills general counsel need to possess and their unique position to advise on commercial strategy ahead of his session at the In-House Financial Services conference.
How has the role of general counsel transformed within the last 5 years?
I believe the role of the GC has moved away from that of merely a senior legal technician to that of a trusted “strategic adviser”. GCs have, by the nature of their role and the demands placed on them, always had to be highly skilled legal technicians and control focused in approach, however, merely analysing and managing legal risk and exercising reasoned judgement is not enough in the role of the modern GC.
There has been a gradual transformation over a number of years which has seen the transition of the traditional GC from being solely a senior legal adviser to that of the strategic adviser vital to the business it supports. The modern GC as strategic adviser will continue to act as a control function, but will also act a sparring partner able to challenge the business. A modern GC operates a trusted adviser who will work hand in hand with its client, seeking solutions to issues that arise, whilst continuing to act as a guardian of the franchise.
What two key non-legal skills do modern general counsel need to possess?
I’d say that communication skills and commercial acumen are vital tools for the modern general counsel. Simply, whilst the general counsel needs to understand a wealth of highly complex issues/ scenarios and risks, they need to be able to explain the same in a concise manner and clearly articulate to their client. Communication is of course also about listening, which is equally as vital as outward communication. Secondarily, I cited the need for commerciality, this is because in our role as trusted strategic advisers to the business, the general counsel will need to fully understand and engage with the business strategy.
In what ways do organisations benefit from consulting general counsel about commercial strategy?
The general counsel function holds a deep understanding of the business it serves and therefore it understands the business strategies in hand. I would go further and say, the general counsel’s view is often sought early in the decision-making process because the general counsel is a trusted strategic adviser. They know the institutional risk appetite of the company and can be a key resource in the development of alternative/ novel solutions or simply act as a voice of reason where there is doubt or concerns. The general counsel’s focus is directed to the business (its sole client) and accordingly, more so than external counsel, the general counsel function is readily available, resourceful, thoughtful and in a unique position to deal with legal, commercial and structural issues as they arise.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
My late grandfather – who was both the kindest and wisest person I’ve ever met. He supported and guided myself and my brothers. He taught us to always take pride in what we do and to “invest” time and effort in the tasks we carry out and finally to always do today and never put off something we need to do for tomorrow.
You’ve won the lottery. What is the first thing you would you do?
I’d most likely open a separate managed account with a large asset manager, simply to enable me to sit back and relax whilst somebody else would have the task of drafting me a bespoke IMA, for me to then consider and mark-up with adjustments! ….Joking aside, I’d most likely help my immediate family and close friends with their mortgages and create a trust fund to help support the education of my kids, nephews and nieces in the future.