3 top-of-mind objectives for every Chief Legal Officer, right now

Cast your mind back ten years or more, and the role of an organisation’s general counsel looked a bit different to what they’re tasked with today. Back then, it was all about risk management, compliance and business protection. Today, the general counsel has become Chief Legal Officer (CLO) and along with a name-change comes new responsibilities. 

From supporting business growth to keeping pace with new privacy laws, the role of the CLO is rapidly evolving. A recent report from Deloitte put it this way: “Today’s chief legal officer is multidimensional, no longer just an exceptional legal tactician. A CLO is also a strategic thinker and a senior executive, operating at the highest and most impactful level of the company.”

In this increasingly complex contract, regulatory and legal environment, new and urgent priorities emerge. To find out what matters most, we spoke to three CLOs and then did our own research to back up their comments — with the full findings detailed in this new eBook, The Modern Chief Legal Officer. 

But, because we know CLOs are a busy bunch, we’ve summarised the three key priorities for you below. 

1. Better manage risk

Minimising and managing risk are fundamental to the CLO role. And, according to EY, the highest risk presents itself in contract creation, negotiation and storage — with increased risk for the 69% of companies that don’t use pre-approved contracts with standard language.

Tanya Jaeger de Foras, CLO at global ingredients company Ingredion, commented on this. “Traditionally, legal leaders were focused on speed and volume of contracts — but there was no context. We didn’t have standard clauses, and no one realised there was an opportunity for better risk management or efficiency in finding contracts when we needed them,” she explained. 

“It’s easy to track traditional legal metrics like what you spent and how many contracts you delivered, but the more ephemeral question is ‘How did you create real value in a regulatory environment?’”

To address this priority, CLOs and their teams need better ways to systematically track contractual obligations, and better access to the rich data in contracts. Without it, the risk of mistakes, inconsistencies or non-compliance only grows.

2. Lead and manage successful teams

Today’s CLOs are responsible for guiding legal teams to success by empowering their people with the tools and skills they need to operate at peak potential. This only becomes possible when they have sufficient time to educate, mentor and manage people effectively.

For Jim Shaugnessy, CLO at DocuSign, supporting legal talent and building successful teams doesn’t happen overnight. “As CLO, you spend a small amount of time on basic legal matters. Far more of your time is spent on counselling and leadership. 

“People are really valued for their ability to be productive and thorough in the law. Sometimes that efficiency is about technology, but in my role [as CLO], a lot more of it has to do with empowering people with the tools they need — mentoring, managing and leading people to success.”

In addressing this priority, leaders can find ways to empower people to work more productively; and to work on more fulfilling and rewarding tasks. This can be achieved, in part, by automating a lot of the mundane contracting work that consumes employees’ time.

3. Drive organisational growth

Today’s CLOs are an integral part of leadership teams, playing a key role in growing and expanding the business. As Douglas Fischer, general counsel at Advanced Vapor Devices, explained, “I am general counsel but my role is largely strategic, trickling into corporate

development partnerships, M&A activity and other forward-thinking work. It’s less day-to-day legal work like SEC and board filings and more about leadership.”  

To achieve these ambitious goals, CLOs need to find ways to minimise operational silos and streamline processes. Being slow to act can cause opportunities to vanish in the blink of an eye and give competitors a leg up.

Contracting can be a bottleneck here. A recent DocuSign survey found 48% of companies manage over 500 contracts per month. In a growth phase, this number can skyrocket — and if systems aren’t built to scale, turnaround times are impacted and opportunities may get missed. In fact, according to EY, contracting inefficiencies can result in lost business at more than 50% of organisations.

How to deliver on these priorities?

A great question. In a nutshell, it’s all about digitising any processes that get in the way of managing risk, leading your teams, and driving organisational growth. In our next blog, we’ll explore this idea in more detail. 

Meantime, if you’re keen, you can read the full report on The Modern Chief Legal Officer