How today’s General Counsel is changing course to better manage risk on the new digital sea 

Any business that wants to survive and compete must acknowledge the risks it faces in the marketplace, and work within boundaries it considers acceptable to find a competitive edge. Companies that cannot find ways to push those boundaries face the most serious risk of all: market irrelevance.  

Without accepting some level of risk, no business can engage in the transactions that keep it solvent. This is as true for today’s enterprises as it was for Phoenician merchants trading in the East Mediterranean more than 3,000 years ago. You want total safety? Then stay home, avoid the high seas, and hope someone shares their dinner with you. 

Most of today’s businesses do not face the threat of sinking vessels.  They require that its risk and legal teams tame the internal and external waters from the deck of a digital battleship – taking a more active role in keeping the organization afloat with more adept management of data risk due to its increased complexity, variety, and volume as well as regulations that must be accounted for due to the invigorated commitment and new expectations of enforcement agencies.   

Navigating the high seas of change  

In this modern digital journey, the general counsel has often been a first mate – playing a tactical role as a lead attorney.  But that is changing, and changing fast.  Trained in mitigating risks, the new GC must shift the focus to managing risks in a highly risky environment and provide strategic insight as legal and regulatory concerns arise to change the perception of the legal function as simply a cost center.  They must steer a new course with myriad of responsibilities associated with risk management, and embrace an expanded role beyond a direct focus on the law.  In this capacity, they can leverage their unique understanding of business activities, including operations, risks, and opportunities to better set the tone for the business and work with legal teams to address risks. The general counsel can take a creative approach to stay on top of issues.   

To execute within this sea of change, they must face a new regulatory environment with greater compliance scrutiny, increased volume and complexity of data, disruptive technologies, resourcing and budgetary constraints, and departmental attrition.  Driven by the enactment of new comprehensive data privacy and protection laws as well as increased cybersecurity attacks, legal leaders need to respond swiftly to regulatory obligations and fully assess the impact caused by any data breach or leak to mitigate the risk of fines, lawsuits and reputational damage while, at the same time, executing tasks cost-efficiently and without depleting valuable legal resources. 

What new roles can the GC expect to take on?  

If it has not already happened, this shift will be felt in the near future.  How do we know this? What does it mean in terms of departmental priorities and areas of improvement needed for 2024 and beyond?  We asked these questions, and more, in a recent survey of 289 general counsel conducted with Corporate Counsel Business Journal (CCBJ) to better understand shifting responsibilities. We wanted to learn what legal leaders are doing or plan to do to steer their electronic ship to safety and make smarter decisions, optimize operations, reduce costs and manage risks. Here are a few key takeaways:  

  • Strategic and Influential Partner:  87% of respondents agree or strongly agree that the role of the general counsel is shifting from legal advisor to strategic and influential partner to other senior executives  
  • Greatest impact of changing role: 69% of respondents identified expanded responsibilities in other risk areas including cybersecurity, data privacy and risk management as having the greatest impact on their changing role.   
  • Departmental improvement: 41% of respondents see automation of manual tasks as the biggest opportunity for productivity improvements for their legal departments.   

Want to learn more?  

On September 27th, OpenText will conduct a webcast entitled, “The Modern General Counsel Survey Results: What is driving the Enterprise Legal 2.0 Evolution?”  During this session, CCBJ and OpenText will share key findings and selected highlights from the survey. You’ll hear how the role of the general counsel is changing and how they are becoming an influential C-Suite partner to improve business outcomes in addition to managing risk, meeting compliance mandates, and safeguarding the organization’s reputation. Click here to register for this session.   

Also, for greater insights into how data privacy laws and cybersecurity is re-shaping legal responsibilities around privacy management as well as how legal leaders are leveraging advanced analytics to analyze and refine processes to support key privacy use cases, you might find this additional on-demand webcast of value.  Click here to watch.

Andy Teichholz

Andy Teichholz is the Sr. Industry Strategist for Compliance and Legal at OpenText. He has over 20 years of experience in the legal and compliance industry as a litigator, in-house counsel, consultant, and technology provider. Andy is focused on helping businesses succeed with digital transformation. In this capacity, he has served as a trusted advisor to customers by leveraging his business acumen, industry experience, and technical knowledge to advise on regulatory compliance, information governance, and data privacy issues as well as support complex litigation and regulatory investigations.

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