Top 2023 Leadership Challenges for GCs & Managing Partners
[Contributors: This post was originally published by the AdvanceLaw Team on AdvanceLaw Digital.]
AdvanceLaw GCs and law firm leaders met in New Orleans at AdvanceLaw’s Fall General Counsel Summit to discuss best practices in managing and developing legal talent, technology, and transformation.
Several key themes emerged as high priorities for GCs for 2023.
GC’s 2023 Leadership Priorities. Source: AdvanceLaw GC Summit Pre-Meeting Survey
“Work is More Work” Burnout remains a significant concern post-pandemic — a recent survey from Axiom suggests that 100% of Deputy GCs suffer from stress, and nearly three-quarters have concerns about career advancement. From nonstop virtual meetings to remote team bonding, staying engaged with colleagues and clients in a remote or hybrid setting takes more effort than ever before — one GC admitted that “work is more work now,” which resonated with everyone. Faced with limited budget and headcount, most GCs are rethinking how, and by whom, work gets done in order to relieve the pressure on their teams.
Workflow Technology to the Rescue? While many GCs are still feeling the sting from heavy tech implementations (especially contract lifecycle management), they are beginning to consider lightweight “workflow automation” tools that can be used to route work into legal (gathering the right information from the client upfront), capture approvals from legal, finance, or other functions, and deliver work product to clients or customers without long email chains. Overstretched teams are driving a lot of this focus as GCs look for ways to improve efficiency and right-size legal’s involvement in companywide processes.
We heard from Connie Brenton (formerly head of Legal Ops at NetApp and currently CEO at LegalOps.com), who used similar technology to automate 140+ processes at NetApp, including those involving HR and Procurement. The group discussed the trade-off between the efficiency (and metrics) that automation tools provide versus the benefit of a lawyer’s direct contact and relationship with the business client — one GC expressed concern about clients submitting a “ticket” for legal advice. Having heard this version of this debate for years, our impression is that the tide is turning in terms of efficiency, in part because Legal is at breaking point, but also because clients have come to expect a technology (vs. human) interface as they work with other functions.
Processes to Which NetApp Has Applied Workflow Automation. Source: NetApp & Mitratech.
“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” Trevor Walker, SVP of Human Resources and Innovation at Advocate Health, spoke about the importance of culture to team performance. This theme strongly resonated with GCs coming off a group discussion of lawyers’ unique characteristics (see graphic below), and many GCs felt they could do more to foster a legal department culture that was unique but aligned with that of the broader organization. Trevor shared practical guidance on how culture can be developed by setting clear priorities (something many GCs felt they could do better), developing “shared everyday habits,” and ultimately systems to enable those habits and reward team members who adopt them.
How Lawyers Differ in the Workplace. Source: Dr. Larry Richard, The Lawyer Brain.
3 Step Approach to Developing a Team Culture. Source: Trevor Walker.
Developing the Next Generation of Lawyers (in a Remote World)
Remote working raises questions about skill development for lawyers, especially at law firms. GCs expressed concerns about both the scarcity of midlevel associates (firm leaders confirmed they are losing more talent to in-house roles as associates opt out of the partner track) and their training, hypothesizing that an observed gap in client relations skills may stem from less frequent access to partners’ conversations with clients. Firm leaders described some of the tactics they have taken—one firm with a heavy remote work focus restricts virtual positions to 3rd-year lawyers and above; at least one firm has also designed a dedicated development track for lawyers targeting in-house roles later in their careers.
On the in-house front, one GC is the executive sponsor of the “Next-Gen” employee affinity group, and the group discussed how to balance the more expansive demands that Gen-Z employees may have of their employers (well illustrated in the graphic below) with business needs, productivity demands, budgets, and the preferences of other employees, concluding they have would have to make changes in order to attract and retain talent in the future but that direct conversations about what was and wasn’t possible have been productive.
“The Human Deal: A New Employee Value Proposition. Source: Gartner.
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