6 key strategies on becoming that trusted advisor to the business
As a trusted advisor to the business, general counsel (GC) must be both the consummate lawyer and business professional. As that consummate lawyer, GC must provide expert legal guidance to the business at a moment’s notice; therefore, they need access to the latest legal information, using technology like Practical Law. To be that trusted in-house lawyer, GC must pursue collaboration, developing a shared vision and forging strategic partnerships with other leaders throughout the business — and considering a broader risk tolerance if it benefits the business as a whole.
Here are six key strategies that today’s GC are using to prove the greater value the law department offers to the business.
Dive deeper into industry trends
Business owners need to know what’s coming down the pike so they can most effectively position the business to meet the latest shifts and trends in their industry.
They follow the latest analysis from researchers and reporters who have their finger on the pulse of the business world.
As GC, if you also read updates on your company’s specific niche or field, you’ll become aware of changes that are influencing business decisions. You’ll also be better prepared to provide your expert legal guidance on those decisions. Understanding how trends will influence your company’s strategic direction and operations allows you to forecast potential risks that aren’t yet apparent and see how to balance emerging risks against existing ones.
Learn more about the business landscape
Owners know every angle of their business, from the big picture to operational details.
Lawyers for small businesses should have as much of that same visibility as possible. Learn everything you can about your company from the inside and the outside. Look at how it is portrayed in the media, how its communications staff are expressing business priorities and decisions via press releases and other outreach, and what is available via public filings and commentary in industry publications. Knowing your company more thoroughly will help you understand its appetite for risk and where risk must be mitigated most assertively.
Align your goals with your company’s goals
Your business has a roadmap and the priorities on that roadmap form the basis of executive decision making. Balancing short-term priorities against long-term intentions is one of the central challenges that business leaders face.
To see which issues they’re balancing, ask for briefings from leadership and management about the company’s short-term and long-term goals. Learn how they are pursuing these goals, what progress is occurring, and what roadblocks they face. Looking at the roadmap from an owner’s perspective will help you determine when your work as counsel is helping advance these goals while understanding when your risk management approach might need an adjustment.
Once you understand the business goals, align the law department’s goals to the business. Then take it one step further: reflect that alignment in the law department’s budget because, as the old business adage says, “What gets measured gets managed.”
Get savvy on finance
Familiarity with the company’s financial health and needs is key for business owners as they determine the best decisions for business health and growth.
In-house lawyers must also understand this aspect of operations to see the context in which leadership is making decisions. Go beyond a basic familiarity with your company’s P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow statements and ask the finance team for briefings or trainings to gain more insight. Starting an ongoing conversation with the finance department can give you the inside view on how your company’s financial decisions and risk management complement each other.
Develop relationships with business leaders
Business owners must set their priorities and make their decisions with the information they have on hand. Whether they have the information they need may depend on whether they have a proactive working relationship with a particular professional or department.
As a trusted advisor to business leaders, work hand in hand with them to assess decisions, advance priorities, and ensure business success. Developing positive and productive relationships with C-suite executives and department heads is important to ensure they trust your counsel when making decisions. Schedule regular quarterly or monthly meetings with individual leaders or leadership teams within various departments; know what keeps them up at night and work with them to address those issues.
Build your presence with the executive team
Executives and department leaders spend a lot of time discussing the needs of the business, sharing information and perspectives, and developing congenial working relationships that can benefit the whole.
It will serve you — and the business — if you’re present at events and meetings that influence business progress. Ask to participate in leadership retreats, staff meetings, departmental presentations, industry conferences, and other important events. You can even plan and host events of your own, such as an informational meeting to help leaders understand the company’s risk profile.
You don’t have to be a business owner to think like one
Even though you’re a lawyer for a small business, thinking like the business owner can give you invaluable information about your leadership’s perspectives and challenges. More importantly, you can then add your informed, expert legal voice to the larger conversations your business leaders are having. In this way, you not only raise your own profile to your executive team but also provide the expanded business value they’re seeking.