General counsels’ (GC) responsibilities have become increasingly complex in recent years. But with many businesses evolving at exceptional speed, GCs need to accelerate the transformation of their own roles.
The role of general counsel (GC) has always carried unique responsibilities. Today, it also brings huge and growing expectations. Of course, GCs retain their time-honoured position as legal experts. But in recent years many have also moved beyond a strictly legal role, taking on a more commercial mind-set and contributing to other risk management activities. The line between risk and opportunity has never been finer.
Furthermore, GCs face growing pressure to become actively involved in commercial operations. KPMG’s latest global study of GCs’ responsibilities shows that board and C-level leaders would like to see the transformation of the GC role accelerate. GCs are increasingly seen as a core part of the leadership team, expected to apply their legal skills to commercial challenges across the business.
These growing expectations mean the GC is the only senior executive expected to combine legal expertise with business acumen. Boards also require GCs to balance risk and opportunity in a way that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. They now not only need to protect the company from threats, but also help it to create value on the upside.
And this is only the beginning. Our study suggests GCs will face growing pressure to expand their responsibilities in future. External factors are disrupting business models and boosting the pace of corporate transformation. For example, technology is becoming integral to every aspect of business. There is a corresponding need for GCs to facilitate this process and oversee the legal aspects. GCs will also need to help detect potential risks from emerging technologies. Other areas of growing focus are expected to include the fast-changing regulatory landscape and a more important role in stakeholder communication.
Looking ahead, CEOs’ increasing interest in collaborative growth is likely to further complicate GCs’ responsibilities. The growing use of external partnerships will only expand the potential for legal risks and the scope of oversight required.
Rapid corporate evolution means GCs urgently need to accelerate the transformation of their own role. Our study shows that corporate leaders see the best GCs as combining five diverse areas of expertise:
The most successful GCs will not try to fulfil this exceptional range of responsibilities in isolation. They will need to work closer than ever with CROs, other risk management colleagues and a wide range of external stakeholders. This will not just reduce the strain on GCs it will make risk management more effective and efficient; helping to improve co-ordination, reduce overlap and prevent blind spots from developing.
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