Six reasons in-house Legal needs to transform.
We’re so busy”.
Three words we’ve heard one too many times throughout our combined 50+ years serving in-house Legal teams. In our experience - industry-wide - the function is so overloaded with tasks from across the business, they just can’t see the wood through the trees.
The focus to-date has always been very much on sucking as much as possible in-house – and creating a full-service legal function. A bit like a GP surgery if you like.They’re downtrodden and stressed out of their minds.
And it’s a dangerous situation to be in.
Legal teams are not set up for success.
A study by EY and the Harvard Law Center for the Legal Profession published in August 2021 highlighted CEO priorities and four key areas where they were affecting General Counsels (GCs):
We believe legal is ripe for transformation right now, and there are six clear reasons why....
OUR MESSAGE TO YOU - THE TIME IS NOW.
As we begin another year, and no doubt contemplate changes we intend to make (both personally and at work), Lustrum thought it timely to seta challenge to the Legal community. Are we going to pretend, prevaricate or posture or are we actually going to do something meaningful?
It sounds trite to say that the 2020s have already been marked by volatility and epoch-making events.
We continue to live through a pandemic that serves to remind humanity (or sadly, perhaps the rich world) of its awful vulnerabilities in the face of microbial threats. The effects of a changing climate are ever more obvious and extreme. Geopolitically, we are experiencing a period of superpower rivalry across multiple arenas, regions and (even) technologies. The digitisation of many aspects of our lives marches on, with huge ethical, never mind legal, implications.
And yet, the Legal world seems strangely untouched – waiting, indeed hoping, for the return of ‘normality’. Lawyers may be wearing different clothes and working in different locations but how much have our methods moved on? Indeed, do we appreciate the scale of the external change enough to understand that the status quo cannot be maintained?
You will have gathered by now that we at Lustrum are passionate about the case for a new approach. Let’s put it another way: there isn’t an alternative. And make no mistake, we’re not just thinking about the dangers of an ever-altering world. There are historic opportunities for business and individuals to seize.
It often feels to us that some General Counsel share many characteristics of Frank L. Baum’s fabled Wizard; certainly, an air of mystery (as to how they and their teams work) and other worldliness (approach and communication style).
The reality is that, despite the obvious hard work and intelligence on display, the responsibilities of Legal have evolved to a point where there needs to be more “tell” and less “show”. Boards and Executive Teams should be asking their lawyers to explain their capability to meet the myriad complexities of today’s business.
It’s clear to us that Legal’s scope has expanded massively in the last 20 years. Indeed, it is very far removed now from what many of us were taught at Law School and practised in Law Firms. Sure, much of the role of the in house lawyer is about applying legal principles but it’s far more than that.Companies often also look to their General Counsel to lead on things like governance, compliance and risk. Here, you don’t just need to know the rules, you have to understand how to build them into everyday corporate life. Developing practical systems and processes may rarely be a counsel of perfection but it is crucial to an organisation’s well-being (and sometimes, its very existence!).
The challenge for Legal leaders is to understand how best to deploy the resources (and time) given to them on the most important areas and manage the rest effectively. A blinding glimpse of the obvious? Perhaps. Yet, how many departments are truly clear on their real priorities – not just the issue of today – and where they should be focusing their time to make the most valuable contribution? How many teams use technology – at any level – and look for innovative ways to deal with routine work?
And the answer cannot be to hide what you do behind a screen, hoping that your methods and departmental substance will never be questioned. After all, there’s always a Dorothy to burst your bubble….
ESG: Without a G there IS no E... and no S.
Environmental Social Governance or 'ESG' with my rapier-sharp mind, I’ve worked out is not in alphabetical order. Someone, somewhere, the person who created the rebranded CSR 2.0 A*** with sugar on top, put it in order, I am guessing in what they thought was the right order - of importance.
Alphabetically of course, EGS could be the subject of much high jinx and japery on Roll on Friday and that just wouldn’t do.However we would like to propose that GES or GSE is more sensible – although we should probably carry out a trade mark search before speaking too loudly. We think Governance is most important. There we’ve said it. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about E or the S. Please don’t cancel us, just yet, but read on.
OOur killer point is: start with Governance. Without proper Governance there is no E or S for the modern CEO’s to espouse.
Lustrum believes that good and genuine environmental and genuine social stewardship should be sought from and provided by organisations. Lustrum exists to make the World a better place after all. Genuinely we do – we’re not espousing - our World is that of the in-house lawyer and we want to make that World better so that the good people that inhabit that World can flourish and thrive and the bad people (you know who you are), don’t.
Without good Governance, there will be no platform from which to espouse at all or at best a morally flimsy one. Ask those CEO’s at Post Office, Lehman Bros and. Volkswagen, Top Shop and Patisserie Valerie, Kids Company……we could go on…..(but it’s almost too easy to go on unfortunately), whether or not they should have sat up, listened and not looked out the window when their General Counsel was doing the Corporate Governance training.
Espousing makes us wince a bit, well quite a lot these days, but we can see why CEO’s do it. More on that another time perhaps.