Meet The New In House Counsel – Evolving Roles!

This article was first published in the Lex Witness September 2017 issue.

In this rapidly changing business world, the role of in-house counsel is constantly evolving to keep pace with the varied needs of the businesses they support and advice. Instead of the in-house counsel’s role being restricted to just being a risk spotter and general advisor, they are now expected to be business enablers and strategic partners contributing towards the overall growth of the business.

However, this change in roles and expectations involve risks and rewards of its own. An in-house legal team is expected to have diverse skill set, including legal, technical and managerial skills. They also get rewarded by being included as a part of the overall business ecosystem, versus being considered a support team only. This ensures career growth track, including senior management and board positions within the corporates.

What Are The Changes?

Let’s have a quick look at how the roles of in-house counsel have been changing over the years:

In-house counsel now manage a full eco-system of law firms and solution providers they outsource their legal needs to versus being the only source of legal services for the corporates as in the past. However, in-house legal teams are now quiet robust in terms of handling majority of the work within themselves, and only choose to outsource selective legal needs which entail practice matter specializations and appearance, like in cases of disputes.

In-house counsel are now well-versed with the business acumen of the industry they are serving in. Their knowledge is not just restricted to legal practices, but instead, in-house counsel are adept with the business practices, culture and strategies, wherein they contribute as overall strategic growth partners.

In-house counsel in the present time are looked upon as the knowledge center to a great extent for the companies, wherein the non-legal colleagues trust and seek their experience and understanding of the legal impact on the business.

In-house counsel are becoming technology friendly as well, and are adapting various innovative mechanisms like contract drafting and management software, online case cataloging and portfolio management etc. These mechanisms not just enables smoother work functions, but also contributes towards effective resource management for the companies from time, money and manpower perspective.

An In House Counsel’s Skill Deck

In order to set into the evolving role of the in-house counsel, following are some of the preferred skill sets that the current in house counsel are looking upto:

Legal Acumen: Armed with the requisite legal knowledge that not just protects the business, but also helps it grow. They think from a long term perspective, being aware of changing market regulations and trends, and calculate the impact of such on the industry they work in.

Analytical Skills: With a much deeper analysis in place not limited to legal but beyond business objectives to ensure that their advice is in the best interest of the company from resource management perspective. Whether its compliance issues, M&A or IPR portfolio management, an in-house counsel’s role is to be cognizant of the fact that the business undertakes measures that would serve them in the best way financially from a long term perspective.

Social Intelligence: We now see much more empathetic and sociable, such that not just their own team members, but the non-legal colleagues in the company also feel comfortable to approach for advice and work. It is important for in-house counsel to foster an open-door policy in order to ensure transparency within the company culture when it comes to legal and compliance issues.

Managerial Skills: In-house counsel, especially in senior management roles, today consistently work with the business stakeholders and contribute towards the business growth decisions. Hence, it is imperative that in-house counsel are able to manage and influence the likes of Board of Directors, CEOs, CTOs, CFOs and GMs on the legalities of running the business.

Knowledge & Innovation: You will find a plethora of knowledge management tools that in house counsel today equip themselves with to stay updated about the latest laws and regulations affecting their industries. Whether it’s through CLEs, or being involved in various networking groups, it is key for in-house lawyers to become the knowledge hub that their companies can depend on. In-house counsel should also be aware of the new technology products and software available in the market, like cloud computing, contract drafting & management, IPR management etc. Incorporating such new technology into the daily function of the in-house legal team can help set precedence for the entire business to adapt the modernistic approach, which can be resource efficient.

Of course on the other side of this coin are the law firms. In the next issue, we will address the evolving roles within law firms, and the skills to go with them. Stay tuned!

I am the Principal Consultant at the Lex Witness Strategic Counsel Desk, an invitation based initiative, which caters to various entities who seek to create and improve their brand and undertake market activation strategies in the Indian legal market space. Much beyond the space of the magazine, the Strategic Counsel Desk aspires to provide a holistic framework for the firm’s positioning and business growth, primarily focusing on the strength in the Indian legal industry.

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