Press Releases

ARLINGTON, VA, August 24, 2020

Gartner Says General Counsel Should Pivot from Legal to Business Leadership

The Most Effective General Counsel Spend More Time on Executive Activities, Allowing Them to Maximize Contributions to Firm Outcomes

General counsel (GC) who spend a higher percentage of their time performing strategic work and supplying business guidance are more effective than those who spend less, according to Gartner Inc. These “Executive” GC are more likely to achieve their personal objectives, have greater influence with peer executives and contribute more to corporate outcomes.

“GC who spend more time on strategic work are simply more effective,” said Abbott Martin, vice president, research, in the Gartner Legal and Compliance Practice. “In an era where corporate success is often defined by assets that legal protects (IP, data rights, reputation) and services legal provides (risk governance), GC are essential to corporate strategy and must focus their time accordingly. The pandemic—with the interdependence of governmental action and corporate response—has only heightened the importance of the GC.”

The most effective GC, who take a more executive approach to their role, have a stronger ability to influence the CEO, and provide a significant impact on strategic decision making (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Impacts of Effective General Counsel

Source: Gartner (AUGUST 2020)

Unfortunately, just 8% of GC perform a truly executive role with most (59%) performing tactical legal work and offering legal guidance rather than involving themselves in top-level strategy. GC often default to focusing primarily on the strictly legal aspects of the guidance they provide, failing to meaningfully incorporate extra-legal business considerations such as the impact of the law on strategic initiatives or the bottom line

Most CEOs, executive teams, and boards will consider and use their GC as their chief lawyer unless explicitly “trained” to use them differently.

“As a starting point, GC should think about the role they occupy and have a direct conversation with the CEO about long-term corporate needs,” said Mr. Martin. “GC should rework their future commitments, so that they are keenly focused on the highest priority corporate goals and strategy.”

Pivoting their time towards more strategic work will naturally lead to the GC being more closely involved in executive decision-making and execution, where they can add the most value to the organization. Making this shift requires GC to think carefully about how they spend their time, with whom and on what type of work. GC will always need to be involved in things like contract management, M&A and regulatory analysis. GC exhibiting business leadership focus on the strategic elements of that work. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has created many new legal and compliance issues for most companies, and decisions on the way forward will need expert legal involvement.

“COVID-19 might be a catalyst for action, but it’s certainly not the end of the story of the importance of the GC being personally effective,” said Mr. Martin. “The success of a modern company usually depends on its ability to generate revenue from the types of assets that typically fall within a GC’s stewardship.”

The challenge for most GC is to shift their approach to risk management and their mindset from a provider of legal services to a business leader who provides strategic and operational clarity to the company.

Gartner for Legal & Compliance clients can view the report Behaviors of Effective General Counsel for more details.

Non-clients can download Gartner’s new report, 5 Things the Best General Counsel Do Differently, or watch the complimentary webinar Attributes of an Effective General Counsel to learn more.

About Gartner for Legal & Compliance

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About Gartner

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Justin Lavelle 
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