Ensuring the Legal Health of your Business
General Counsel – Your Partner in Ensuring the Legal health of Your Business!
To understand why a general counsel is important to your business, let’s first define exactly what a general counsel is. Think of a general counsel as the family physician for your business. A general counsel is a lawyer who will handle all of your legal needs and ensure the legal health of your business. And just like a general practitioner who might refer you to specialists in some cases, an effective general counsel will know when to handle a legal issue himself or herself, and when to turn over an issue to a specialist counsel or legal consultant. Some areas of specialty include real estate, securities, and environmental law.
To take the doctor analogy even further, your general counsel is your “go-to” person for every issue, whether or not they have the specialty necessary to manage all aspects of the issue. The advantage of working with a general counsel you trust is that this person oversees all your legal issues, and is able to effectively monitor any special counsels that are hired. So, instead of having to deal with multiple lawyers, you deal with one, and your general counsel then refers you to specialists, all while still managing the overall legal “health” and the “big picture” for your company.
What to Look for When Hiring a General Counsel
It’s clear the general counsel is an important member of your organization. But what qualities should you look for when choosing a lawyer? While not exhaustive, the following list gives you a good starting point:
• Experience – General counsel experience goes above and beyond what is learned in law school. A key ability that can come only with real-world experience is called issue identification. Ostensibly, this involves two distinct processes – identifying an issue, and then finding an appropriate solution to resolve that issue. And to return once more to the doctor analogy, experience trains a good general counsel to look beyond the “symptoms” of an issue in order to determine the true root cause. And this is what separates neophyte general counsels from more experienced ones.
• Business Knowledge – This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how many general counsels lack requisite real-world business experience, especially as it relates to your industry and your particular needs. An ideal general counsel is a team player who understands your business’ unique requirements, and who takes ownership in finding the correct solution to a problem after considering all the alternatives.
• Negotiating Skills – In cases of litigation, contractual matters, and other legal issues, it is necessary to hire a general counsel with a history of successful negotiations. A general counsel possessing key negotiating skills can, quite simply, obtain the best outcomes. A general counsel should not be guided by emotion, but by the facts and the law. And this is crucial, particularly in pressure situations where the success of your business may be at stake.