Survey respondents said understanding the business was necessary to being able to anticipate problems. "Pure legal decision making and just managing a legal process is not going to 'cut it' anymore," said one general counsel. "We really need to understand the context because we have an increasingly important role in protecting the company's reputation."
Another interviewee said GCs not only have to understand the business, but be able to talk to business leaders in ways the leaders can understand:
Have good future and peripheral vision in terms of recognizing what risks and opportunities are out there and then be able to translate those from legal language and ways of thinking into crisp, business language that colleagues who are not lawyers can readily understand and make use of. Also having really good business judgment; knowing the business well and having your finger on the pulse of where the company is at, in terms of its risk tolerance, its own commercial objectives.
Respondents emphasized that they need to collaborate with other departments in order to do their jobs well.
"GCs indicated that to address the risks they face, they need to develop close working relationships with other parts of the organization," the study found. "The top two areas cited were Finance (61 percent of respondents) and Internal Audit (59 percent). Sales and Marketing was a close third (55 percent)."
Since audit executives often employ "a risk-focused work program," says Jones, they can serve as valuable allies to GCs. "They come up with some great empirical information," he adds.
The survey also predicted major risks coming down the pike. More than 80 percent of the respondents said that they expect the following to pose risks to their organizations in the next five years: adjusting to the volume and complexity of regulation; maintaining data security and protection; complying with different regulatory regimes; and protecting their companies' public reputation.
As another interviewee put it in the report, "The increase in pace and complexity of regulation, plus the increase in extra-territoriality being asserted by various national states, means the world is more complicated and it is certainly something that exercises both myself and my peers."