The five demands on overworked general counsel

After years – decades, even – working in a private practice law firm, it was time. Time to get out of the rat race. To find that elusive work-life balance that so many of your friends, family, and colleagues enjoy. You have the experience, the expertise, the prestige. But at the end of the day, the idea of weekends off and casual dinners with friends was enough to get you to finally pull the trigger.

So, you took a general counsel position. And at first, the transition to being a solo attorney – or at least, on a smaller team – was enough to keep those first few weeks and months fresh and exciting. But now those first few weeks and months have passed, and seemingly basic tasks dominate your daily work, leaving no time for the bigger, more strategic work you were hired to do.

The truth is, being a general counsel requires more time and a different kind of experience than you anticipated. And no matter how many hours you work, the need for smarter solutions to your day-to-day problems will only increase.

The expectation of expertise

As general counsel, you are the legal expert of the company. It’s a position that requires a significant depth of knowledge and experience, as well as flexibility to cover a vast range of tasks, from review of the simplest of contracts one moment to leading the legal strategy for an acquisition the next.

You may be asked to draft what appears to be a simple contract for a cleaning services agreement. However, chances are you haven’t spent the last decade working on those types of vendor agreements, so this task may present challenges due to the unfamiliarity with what is standard.

Additionally, even in areas of your expertise, the law isn’t static. With every new contract or question about labor law, you may find yourself on unfamiliar ground due to changes in law or interpretation. To keep up, you’ll need to consistently and intentionally maintain your legal “know-how” by studying and monitoring the latest changes in the legal landscape. This is hard enough if you’re in a niche practice. As a general counsel, however, this can mean late nights and work marked with inefficiency and the nagging fear that something was missed.

Meeting expectations and maintaining reputation

You are a competent and talented attorney. You were hired as general counsel for your expertise, experience, and reputation.

However, the scope of your general counsel position is likely much broader and more diverse than your previous role. Every day brings a new question that needs to be answered quickly and accurately.

So, you’ve got a great deal on your plate, much of it with short deadlines. You need to maintain your reputation as the legal expert in the company, but the more questions and issues that come across your desk, the more you need a solution that can help you research and answer the questions quickly and confidently.

In short, it’s not a problem that’s going away.

A question of response and resources

One of the reasons you were hired in your in-house position was to bring some, if not all, of the work in-house; that is, to take the place of those partners and associates, the process, and the technology that makes a larger firm productive. The difference is, you are likely now overhead instead of a profit center, and much of the support and many resources you once enjoyed may no longer be available.

The first impulse might be to hire more help, establish the necessary processes, and install cutting edge technologies that will help hold off the never-ending wave of work you face. However, budget decisions are usually out of your hands, and it is difficult to get approval for higher expenditures, especially prohibitive and ongoing ones like headcount.

Plus, this is bigger than just a workflow problem. You’re not only watching the work pile up in front of you, but you may also be putting the company at risk by your inability to reasonably keep on top of important changes in law on a broad array of areas.

Managing risk and moving forward

If you’re looking for a solution, it’s likely because you don’t have all that you need to be successful. And while that isn’t necessarily your fault or the fault of the company, it is putting the business at risk.

Once you’ve identified the need, the next tough truth is the realization that this problem is only going to get worse. Each day will bring different challenges, new questions, and new specific legal situations that not only need to be answered immediately but will put you further behind.

You need quick, accurate advice and information that will help inform decisions and prioritize where your legal expertise is needed most. There’s no question that you were brought into your current role to help influence the company’s direction. But you can’t do that if you’re always bogged down by tasks that never allow you to do that higher level of work.

Accelerating growth and finding a solution

As general counsel, you are asked to lead the company in numerous ways. When it comes to your workflow and daily efficiency, it’s critical that you find the resources necessary to let you do the job you were hired to do.

This means finding ways your work can – and should – be handled more efficiently, confidently, and effortlessly.

So how does a successful general counsel avoid getting bogged down by work, which while critical, may not be the best use of their skills, talents, and expertise?

They seek out solutions powered by a team of experts who have stood in your shoes during their years of legal practice – experts committed to tracking, developing, and maintaining the latest legal information for general counsel just like you.

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