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In-house lawyers 'need commercial nous'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 16/07/13

The role of general counsel (GC) has always been a complicated one, involving an awareness of and passion for legal issues but also a clear-sighted focus on the commercial and financial issues that drive most business transactions.

And according to research, produced by legal resourcing consultancy FreshMinds Legal in partnership with the Global Leaders in Law forum, this business nous is becoming an even more important part of the role.

In a study that surveyed UK heads of legal and general counsel at FTSE350 and other similar companies, the organisations found that 86 per cent of in-house lawyers and legal heads now believe that business skills will soon be equal with technical skills in the resume of general counsel, reports the Lawyer magazine.

While this may seem like a daunting prospect for lawyers thinking of making the move into business, a salutary example could be the career of Hollywood chameleon Steve Buscemi.

A favourite of the Coen brothers, Buscemi has forged out an impressive career in film and TV, with a portfolio of work that includes classic films like Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, Con Air and The Big Lebowski. Since 2010, he's also put in a star turn on HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

Although he was never going to be a leading man - too idiosyncratic-looking compared to bland-faced baby-heads like Matt Damon and Tom Cruise - Buscemi has embraced his unusual presence and energy to become one of Hollywood's most versatile actors. He's also a fireman or something, but that's not important to the point I'm making.

Which - since you asked - is that flexibility and a range of skills can be a great path to success. In-house lawyers may need to cover more ground than their private practice counterparts, but they'll also have more options, developing their business leadership and financial awareness.

Roshana Gammampila, head of FreshMinds Legal and the former head of one of the in-house legal teams at Save the Children, said: "As our research shows, GCs and their teams are now very much at the heart of a business’s strategic decision making process. It is no longer good enough for GCs and their teams to just be good lawyers."