As much of what businesses regarded as normal changed, almost overnight in 2020, legal departments had to adopt simultaneous reactive and proactive stances to help their organisations respond. In such times, the evolving role of legal departments can bring added legal and strategic value to their organisation.

In negotiating change GCs must no longer simply consider whether something is legal, but whether it is legal, strategic and right.

A new special report from Thomson Reuters, ‘The Future Boardroom: Business strategy powered by legal’, examines the evolving role of GCs, and focuses on what it means to take on an enhanced role that involves being a leader not only in the legal function, but in business, strategy and governance.

The role of the GC is not only about being a great lawyer—protecting the company and managing risk are merely prerequisites for the role. Disruptions in the legal and business landscape means that in-house legal departments must leverage the 360-degree visibility of their organisation to act as business partners, help drive strategic goals and provide leadership in guiding the conscience and culture of their business.

This matters because disruption often brings increased risks, and opportunities. Businesses have seen governments react to COVID-19 with an array of new rules, regulations and laws that could impact several areas. The UK’s new relationship with the EU presents uncertainties, but a certainty of change, requiring a flexible business approach. A legal department that can successfully navigate these changes will be key to guiding their organisation into the future.

Added to this are governance issues—such as those around diversity and inclusion, and growing concerns around the climate crisis—that have driven up boardroom agenda. Such issues speak to the strategic vision of an organisation and bring to light the vital role of the law department, not only in safeguarding their businesses’ reputation, but also in helping to drive cultural change.

GCs have a duty to question and test internal decision-making in order to ensure that there is legal integrity running through organisational decisions. Our special report highlights the following ways in which the GC and the legal department can do this:

  • stay at the forefront of regulatory changes;
  • manage business risks;
  • set strategic priorities in business transformation; and,
  • champion efficiency-driving technology in the legal department.

Doing more with less
The outbreak of COVID-19 has compounded the need for legal departments to drive efficiency, be more effective, and safeguard their organisation, in other words, the need to do more with less is more pressing than ever.

Innovation plays an increasingly important role for in-house legal teams in driving efficiency. European legal departments are recognising the benefits of leveraging technology to modernise their teams and drive efficiency, and data shows that European legal spending on technology is currently in line with the global average.
Those that have innovated by adopting legal tech are best positioned to defend their roles as high-value advisors to their organisation by automating more routine work in order to focus on value-adding activities.

Balancing act
Legal technology is just one aspect in securing and shaping the future of your legal department. Harnessing the talent of your organisation’s people is equally crucial. Technology may supplement and even replace human effort, but they do not replace human talent. Managing talent has to be a top priority for the GC, ensuring members of the legal department are constantly upskilling to work more efficiently and are able to step back from repetition and drudgery to offer problem-solving and high-level strategic thinking.

To navigate change in 2021, GCs will need to utilise their talents and adopt new technologies in order to position themselves as strategic business partners, leaders, diplomats and educators in an organisation that views legal integrity as a core value rather than simply rules to be obeyed.

About the Author:

Agustin Sanchez
Senior Proposition Manager – Legal and Compliance, Thomson Reuters