There has been a paradigm shift in the role of the general counsel over the past two decades. Prior to that time, the sole prerequisite for success was the ability to demonstrate consistent excellence on legal issues presented to both the GC and the lawyers within the legal department. But profound changes over the last two decades—brought on by technology and industry disruptors—have created questions, as well as opportunities, over how GCs deliver legal services to the entities they serve. In today’s world, the expectation of senior management is that a general counsel must strive for, and deliver, operational excellence in how legal services are provided.
In the old model, legal departments viewed themselves as islands apart from the rest of the organization. Quite often, these metaphorical islands were also removed from the other corporate functions, with the general counsel arguing—frequently with success—that their departments, by virtue of their unique expertise and need to be independent, should not be subjected as vigorously to usual corporate norms such as efficiency and cost control. There was some legitimacy to this assertion of legal exceptionalism because, in contrast to the CFO or CCO, whose departments relied in major part on processes, technology and procedures to do their work, the GC had limited options. The choice was frequently a binary one: either hire more lawyers in-house to deal with a rapidly expanding set of new legal challenges or send more work to outside counsel.