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GCs 'dealing with changing environment'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 07/03/14

The changing regulatory environment has proven to be something of a double-edged sword for general counsel (GCs), who have been handed an opportunity to develop their role as well as a great deal of pressure and stress.

James Merklinger, vice president and general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), recently argued that American in-house lawyers are currently enduring a "demanding time", with data breaches in particular putting their role under scrutiny.

Writing for Law 360, he suggested the number of issues facing businesses in 2014 appear as daunting as they have ever been in the past.

However, intelligent and engaged GCs can turn this situation to their advantage, underlining their importance to their organisation and stepping up into leadership positions.

"No matter the instance and regardless of the context, the corporate community relies on each company's respective general counsel or chief legal officer to assure all issues reach satisfying conclusions," declared Mr Merklinger.

In comparison to their counterparts in private practice (who are also facing a host of changes to the way they do business), cultural shifts for GCs are being driven less by necessity and more by opportunity.

Regulatory complexities, globalisation and the increasing pace of change among businesses are all placing in-house lawyers in a central position, particularly as business strategists.

This role includes "managing financial resources, from 'doing more with less,' to streamlining processes for legal projects," argued the ACC chief.

However, the skills this involves are not necessarily legal in origin, meaning GCs increasingly need to learn more about the corporate side of their operation if they are to succeed in taking on new roles and developing their position.

"As companies themselves evolve to be more multinational, increased cross-border operations increase risk. As a result, corporate leaders look to the chief legal officer to help overcome these risks," concluded Mr Merklinger.