“Do more with less” may be a common refrain in today’s business environment. But for corporate counsel and their legal departments, it may be “Do a lot more with less” — and many are rising to meet the challenge.
At the inaugural Corporate Counsel Leadership Forum in New York earlier this month, leaders from global businesses met to discuss how corporate legal departments are looking to hone their skills to meet the demands of their organizations.
During one of the event’s break-out sessions, entitled “Managing Up: On Communicating with and Supporting the C-Suite & Board of Directors,” Nancie Lataille, a partner with Heidrick & Struggles, observed that, “Strong technical legal skills are the price of admission when you take on [the role of] general counsel,” but those in the C-suite also expect “superb business acumen, strong communication skills and the ability to influence.”
“Strong technical legal skills are the price of admission when you take on [the role of] general counsel…”
—Nancie Lataille, Heidrick & Struggles
As Marie-José Nadeau, chair, World Energy Council, noted, corporate governance and regulatory action — including Sarbanes-Oxley or the Cadbury Report in the UK — have changed board responsibilities. As boards rely on general counsel for guidance on important issues, it likewise, paves the way for legal counsel to be more involved in governance issues.
Panelist Jeffrey Ellis, chief legal officer & corporate secretary at Canadian Pacific, described that the global financial crisis has challenged corporate counsel further. “It’s been a real time of significant pressure on the general counsel’s office, on compliance and on the relationship with the board,” he added. In response, Ellis noted that committing time and energy to board education is key, but also discussing trends and where industries may be headed, particularly in the financial services industry.
“The role of the general counsel has become more significant because of a competitive need to be more innovative,” Ellis said. He also noted the obvious need for counsel to be in the C-suite to help manage risk.