General Counsel of the Future: What’s Next?

Prashaant Malaviya , Anirudh Agarwal

March 27, 2023

General Counsel of the Future: What’s Next?

Introduction 

With the advent globalization and exponential growth in the dynamics of the business environment, the role of a general counsel or in-house lawyer in India has undergone a drastic change. In early 80s and 90s, the role of a general counsel was not prevalent in the corporate hierarchy structure. It was only limited to formulating the strategic carve outs, legal risk assessment and management in relation to the business, compliance checks and creating a strong attorney-client relationship for the business interests of the corporate entity.  

Nowadays, with the increase in the number of regulatory compliances for corporate entities due to constant change in the legal regime, from time to time, the role and responsibilities of general counsels or in-house lawyers has significantly become profound. As a result, the duty of a general counsel now includes a broad spectrum of events including but not limited to providing legal advice, assistance, and representation, identifying key legal issues in all the departments, corporate governance, and business policies. 

Presence Of General Counsels In Predominant Sectors Of Market 

In this day and age, the presence of general counsels can be witnessed in large proportion in prominent industries including but not limited to healthcare, start-ups, technology, media, telecom, information technology, banking and finance etc. Majority of the Indian companies as well as industries are transitioning to strong in-house lawyers or general counsels to be more aware on the legal aspects as well as daily functioning and operations of the industrial and corporate sector. Furthermore, the position of a general counsel has moved beyond the conventional role of possessing the knowledge of law and adhering to the regulatory timelines in relation to the legal compliances. Now, general counsels play a vital role in the strategic decision makings by securing a seat in the management team to provide valuable inputs during the board and executive meetings of a company. 

Synergy between General Counsels and Law Firm Practice 

General Counsel practice in recent times has gained popularity within the legal community. Such practice area offers dynamic portfolio to lawyers by giving them an opportunity to be a legal advisor to corporates and get exposed the business structure of the organization. Mostly, big industry players have been seen recruiting corporate lawyers from renowned law firms by offering them leadership roles inclusive of higher salary packages and perquisites. It has been observed that the industries are keen to look out for lawyers from profound law firms to lead as a general counsel in their organization by assisting them in doing business swiftly and ensure time to time adherence to legal compliance mandates.  

The relationship between the practice of a general counsel and law firms is symbiotic in nature. As these general counsels are mostly ex-senior lawyers or former partners of eminent law firms, with notable experience and domain specific expertise, they outsource heavy chunk of work to law firms having sector specific specialized team of lawyers to assist them in formulating the structure of a transaction and further render support in closing of high-net-worth investments. Moreover, in terms of rendering legal opinions and advisories on complex subject matters to the management of the company, law firms come to the aid of general counsels by assisting them in formalizing and validating the legal opinions. Also, law firms provide end-to-end support to general counsels of the organization on daily legal matters.  

Conclusion: Future of General Counsel Practice and Importance of Law Firms 

The increase in investment ecosystem in India will lead to incorporation of many corporate entities and start-ups. This will lead to rise in a significant demand of legal professionals who shall be required to provide time to time support to multi-national companies from initial stages to further stages of business development. Moreover, as the business starts to mark a significant presence in the market, companies inevitably tend to create separate legal teams within their organization to get quick legal and sound solutions in a cost-effective manner. Such developments accelerate the demand of the services of general counsels or in-house lawyers who are embedded with the responsibility to ensure the overall legal compliance management of the organization.  

However, general counsel is a one man show at these giant corporate entities who single handedly manage the entire legal framework for the organization and its subsidiaries based in India as well as abroad. At times, it becomes difficult for these general counsels to supervise the entire legal compliance management as organizations are not inclined towards providing a dedicated team of lawyers to general counsel, due to cost constraints. In such cases, general counsel seeks external support through law firms, who work under their direct supervision . The leading law firms in India ease the challenges of day-to-day legal requirements coupled with the high cost involved in housing professionals to ensure quick efficient advice, by packaging all legal assistance both day-to-day as well as a transaction under an umbrella at a pre-agreed, fixed fee. 

Such an approach aligns the business interests of both the law firms and their respective clientele to achieve practical and feasible solutions in relation to complex legal matters. Law firm offers total transparency and provide general counsel clients with the comfort of never having to doubt whether a question is worth asking or whether an issue warrants a consultation, as there is no additional or hidden cost involved. The underlying objective of the law firms is to resolve the clients’ challenges at the earliest thereby, not creating billable hours. Since each business requirement is unique, law firms’ services are tailored in a manner to meet each client’s specific requirements and legal needs for smooth transactional and operational compliance. The role of general counsels will not overshadow the requirement of law firms to cater the specific needs of the client as they are well-equipped with the requisite set of resources.  

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