General Counsel: from technical expert to valued business partners

Our experience of working with General Counsel (‘GC’) is telling us that many aspire to be seen as a strategic partner and a leader of the business, as well as a legal adviser.

In order for GCs to have an effective role at board level, not only must there be an aspiration from the GCs to engage at that level, but there must also be a recognition by the Board of the value of this contribution and the real potential impact that GCs can bring to the table.

We believe the matrix we’ve developed presents a simple but clear basis for GC to map out their route to be a valued business partner.

In this video Tracey Groves considers the various roles that GCs play within their organisations and explains how our matrix can help GC to reach their true potential.


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General Counsel

Our experience of working with General Counsel is telling us that many aspire to be seen as a key member of the business leadership team, not just a legal adviser. Arguably we are seeing that General Counsel typically undertake one of four roles, depending on their natural strengths and the needs of their business.

So what are these four roles? Firstly, many are perceived as rule setters, a respected technical expert advising on what the business can or can’t do from a legal or regulatory perspective. However when a crisis hits the board invariably turns to the General Counsel to steer them out of trouble. This is when they draw on technical skills and some business insight, taking on the second role, an expert non-influencer. They are able to direct in times of crisis but a lack of engagement skills can mean that once the crisis is over they are unable to really influence major business decisions. Thirdly, General Counsel can also been seen as an empathetic outsider. By that I mean they will be asked for legal advice and be viewed as a counsellor in business matters. So they demonstrate interpersonal skills but not necessarily the deep business knowledge to participate in board level decisions.

These roles are all valued by businesses but to be involved in strategic leadership decisions General Counsel will need to take one step further and this takes us to the fourth and final role of valued business partner. A balanced blend of professional and personal capabilities combining strengths such as technical expertise, influence skills and business acumen. Operating at this level the General Counsel has the foresight to put in place programmes to prevent crisis such as cyber-attack and protection of the firm’s reputation. Whether that involves how to equip employees to do the right thing through their business conduct or preparing to move into new markets.

Are you as General Counsel able to play across these four roles as and when the business needs you to perform? Our matrix can be used as a basis to develop your voice at the board table and reach your full potential.

Contact us

David Andersen

Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 7850 516 437

Stuart Hatcher

Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7841 494328

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