What to Expect as a New Corporate Counsel - Part 1
As a new corporate counsel, there’s a good chance you’re still going through the onboarding process and trying to get a full grasp on the status of all the responsibilities you just inherited. Even if you’re an experienced GC and have worked in many different industries at companies of all shapes and sizes, taking over such a significant position is never an easy task, and it can take months to truly feel comfortable in your role.
You clearly have a lot on your plate as corporate counsel, but knowing what to expect can help make for a smoother transition. Here are some things to expect in your new GC role.
You’re now the go-to source for all things legal
For many companies, general counsel is the first place employees across the organization turn for any and all legal advice and guidance. And depending on the size and nature of your business, you may have a completely separate risk and compliance department, or it might all fall under your domain. But even if it is a completely separate function, not all employees fully understand the differences between the two, so you should expect to receive your fair share of requests for compliance-related issues in addition to your legal duties.
Here are some questions to consider:
Does the current process for legal requests fit with your preferred style of working?
Is there a better way to facilitate requests so you can do your job more efficiently?
Would the rest of the company benefit from a better understanding of your role?
All contracts go through you and are your responsibility
Ensuring your contract portfolio is organized and accessible will be one of the most critical steps you take early on in your new role. Every type of agreement - customer contracts, vendor agreements, leasing contracts, etc. - and every individual contract are now your responsibility, and you’ll likely need to approve all contracts going forward. To take control of the existing contract portfolio, you have to know where all of the contracts are stored and be able to access them.
This can be a major pain point for new GCs, especially if you are taking on the role at a company that didn’t have a strong system in place for managing all corporate agreements. One of the biggest challenges you might run into is trying to manage a contract portfolio that sprawls across various locations, hard drives, shared drives, filing cabinets, and email inboxes. The reality is if you don’t have quick and easy access to all of your contracts, it’s impossible to do your job effectively.
Part of your job is to have the answers to questions like:
How many contracts are coming up for renewal? And which ones?
How many contracts are ending and need to be renegotiated?
What’s the current value of the contract portfolio? How much is going out vs. how much is coming in?
How do we account for version control and ensure everyone is working from the most recent version of the contract?
Adjusting to a new corporate structure and dealing with various departments
All companies are different and have distinct rules of engagement, in addition to the unwritten rules that can only be learned through experience. Whatever you were used to at your previous company may or may not translate to your new role. Maybe you used to report to the CEO who was easily accessible in the office next door, but now you report to the CFO who works in another part of the country and is rarely available. The faster you can learn how people like to work and interact, and what people expect from you, the better.
You will also need a crash course in how every relevant department gets their work done, and how that affects your work. If your sales team is more concerned with closing deals than following the proper contract procedures, and is sending contracts to customers before you’ve had a chance to review, then you’ll have to determine how that impacts the business and whether that process needs to be addressed.
Here are some things you can do to give departments the freedom and flexibility to operate independently while remaining compliant and adhering to company policies:
Provide departments with standard contract templates to create consistency
Set up approval workflows to ensure processes are followed and contracts are routed appropriately
Create and share reports with key stakeholders to provide transparency and accountability