The role of the general counsel, especially in multinational corporations, has changed significantly over the past decade. The causes and effects of these changes reverberated throughout DLA Piper's 2016 Global Women's Leadership Summit.
Here are the key takeaways from these discussions.
Increasingly Guiding Business Strategy
GCs are no longer valued solely for legal advice. Boards of directors and management teams rely on in-house lawyers' ability to see the bigger business picture, including their companies' differentiators and vulnerabilities, and to provide insight on issues that advance the company's broader business goals. Leadership also expects GCs to ascertain which risks are worthwhile for the company to take, not just which are legally problematic. As one of our speakers eloquently put it, GCs are no longer viewed as "business stoppers," but "business enablers."
Driving Corporate Innovation
While many of our speakers emphasized that the GC's primary job is to protect the core business, they are becoming increasingly involved in their company's innovation initiatives, as we wrote about earlier. In fact, a flash poll conducted during the event revealed that 51% of the female GCs in attendance are "very involved" in such efforts.
Guiding Company Culture
GCs also play a critical role in building a culture of compliance within their organizations. Ensuring that compliance policies and programs support an environment where employees feel comfortable coming forward with concerns or reporting potential misconduct is important to mitigating risks of lawsuits and regulatory action, as well as creating an open and positive work environment.
Another key role of the GC that came through during the summit is creating a culture of integrity. Whether responding to a crisis or advising on a new product or venture, today's GCs routinely work alongside business leaders and boards to protect the reputation capital of their organization.
Managing Cybersecurity Risk
Another flash poll with attendees found that, not surprisingly, data privacy and protection is the most pressing issue keeping general counsel up at night. Protecting against sophisticated hackers is a top corporate priority regardless of the industry or the size of the organization. Our panel on cybersecurity revealed a host of cyber-related issues at the top of GCs' priority lists, including: deciding whether to proactively engage with regulators prior to an incident taking place; how to keep the board informed on potential risks and safeguards in place; developing an effective cybersecurity program; and engaging employees, contractors, vendors and others to help identify vulnerabilities.
Lisa Haile, Ph.D. is a partner at DLA Piper and chairperson of the firm's Global Women's Leadership Summit. She also serves as co-chair of DLA Piper's Leadership Alliance for Women, an initiative that is focused on helping the firm's women lawyers maximize their opportunities for business generation and leadership.