Are you a new General Counsel? Top goals to accomplish in your first year.

Author Hayden Gordine
April 3, 2024

The first months in any new role are a critical period for setting the stage for success and making a positive impact on an organisation. For a new General Counsel who reports to the CEO and the board of directors, this effect is amplified because of the high profile of the position.

There are several goals that a new General Counsel should set to accomplish early on to ensure success, here are the key goals:-

1. Develop relationships before you need them

Building relationships is crucial for new General Counsel to succeed. GC’s need to develop internal and external relationships including (but not limited to) the CEO, the board (key board members Chairperson/Lead Director and Committee Chairs), and peers (Chief Operations Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, business unit leaders, and your direct team). Do this early on. These are the people that will judge your success and as always, first impressions count. Liaising with key insiders within the company’s business and legal teams will equip you with invaluable information and help you to become the “go-to” team member, a leader that colleagues come to trust, respect, and enjoy working with.

2. Learn your company’s business

A General Counsel’s job isn’t just to manage legal work and advise on legal matters; you are now a business partner. The new general counsel’s first step toward building credibility and effectiveness within a company is thoroughly understanding the company and its business, including the business structure and type of entity, the size and locations of its operations, the industry, the corporate culture, risk profile, and risk tolerance, and the governance and decision-making processes, including the legal department’s decision-making role.

3. Identify main priorities and key issues

It is important to take stock of current projects, priorities, and issues. Your first few weeks should be spent identifying the key strategic priorities and any deep-seated blockages in legal strategies. These need to be identified quickly for success in a new role. A GC plays a key role in bringing key protocols into the company. This will entail thinking about the power dynamics identified within the legal team and company. External factors should also be considered – such as regulatory changes, litigation risks, legal risks, and competitors.

4. Develop your initial 30/60/90-day action plan

The first months on the job can be a critical time for new general counsel. The 90-day action plan should focus on developing information the general counsel needs to succeed in the new role, including information about the company, its business, and its operations. Share and discuss the plan with your Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Understanding and aligning with your CEO’s expectations may be the most important action for your success. Make sure you discuss and have a clear understanding of how and when you will have ongoing communications – what, when and how do they want to hear from you? Once you obtain input from your CEO, revise your plan. This is your road map for the next three months.

5. Improve the structure of the legal department.

Once you’ve taken the wheel, you must look at how to align the company’s mission, vision, and strategic plan with the legal function and how you do your part to drive the organisation forward. What is the best structure for the organisation? Remember it is structure first, then the staffing follows – the reverse will only create a mess. Who you hire and who you surround yourself with are the most important decisions you will make. There is no one-size-fits-all structure for legal departments, so you will need to figure out what is best for your strategy, company, and team.

6. Understand the budget and look for improvements and efficiencies.

Obtain, understand, and analyse your budget and spend. Review your outside counsel spend. Understand what firms are used and why.  Calculate the ratio of outside to inside spend. Look for any areas where spend can be reduced, and where efficiencies can be made,

7. Become a sound strategic advisor to the CEO

The relationship between a General Counsel and the CEO holds immense significance as the GC’s advice and guidance are crucial for making sound business decisions. Serving as a trusted advisor, the GC provides support to both the executive leadership and the board in fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities. GC’s become strategic advisers to their CEOs by building trust and communicating effectively and often.

Coming into a legal department and creating immediate change is a difficult prospect for any General Counsel. However, if you’ve achieved your planned goals, and developed the required relationships, your initial credibility will be established, and the groundwork will be in place for pursuing other long-term goals for both the legal department and the company.

As always, please reach out to Hayden or a member of the Taylor Root team anytime if you or your organisation may benefit from Taylor Root’s specialist legal search and recruitment services or if you are looking for your next career move.

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