Ask an in-house lawyer why they chose a path away from private practice and the answer is usually the same: they wanted to get closer to the business. Judging by a recent survey from KPMG and Meridien West that canvassed 320 in-house counsel across 32 countries, rising regulation is seeing in-housers get more involved in the business side of their organisations than ever before.
A total of 70 per cent of those surveyed agreed that giving commercial advice to their company’s executive board is just as important as giving legal advice nowadays, while an impressive two thirds of general counsel say they are now much more involved in business decisions than they were five years ago. An even-higher 90 per cent highlighted regulation as the lead risk to organisations over the next five years.
Gauging reaction from the market, it’s clear that general counsel see their roles today as having as much a business as a legal function: “In-house lawyers don’t work in a vacuum – their advice has to be flexible and commercial as part of serving the objectives of the company and its shareholders,” commented Susan Mann, general counsel at Dealogic.
“In-house lawyers are becoming increasingly prominent as they find themselves, now more than ever, ‘gap filling’,” added Richard Reade, assistant general counsel – international at WeightWatchers.
While the concept of working close to the business and gauging risk may not be exactly new to many in-house counsel, it is certainly something to bear in mind when you’re sitting in the boardroom. Perhaps Shauna Powell, group legal director at Clyde Blowers Capital, said it best earlier this year when she told The Lawyer that “rather than being the gatekeeper of things you can’t do, lawyers have got to be enablers, while always recognising the risks”.