New skills for new business
The skills required from an in-house lawyer at an e-business differ from those of a traditional corporate counsel, write James Butler & Leigh Dance
What profession is known for risk taking, out-of-the-box thinking, a willingness to draw conclusions without having all the facts, an acceptance of failure as an occasional outcome? A profession whose members are flexible and skilled at multi-disciplinary teamwork?These attributes do not readily bring to mind a lawyer, much less corporate counsel. Yet for in-house lawyers advising new economy businesses, these are the qualities needed to perform effectively. Whether an e-commerce or new technology business, these in-house jobs are exciting, often tremendously rewarding, and relentlessly demanding. Consider a daily operating environment where there is enormous commercial pressure to bring products to the market fast. Many products are in development simultaneously, in stages from incubation to market release. Often these products have no real precedent, and just identifying the legal issues is a challenge. External business partners are numerous and confidentiality issues are tricky. Success depends on the sharing and protection of ideas. Regulators often have yet to address the related legal issues, and in-house counsel must work closely with them to help them understand the technologies and their implications. Another fact of life for in-house counsel of new economy businesses is that there is not always as much time or money to research matters as thoroughly as you would wish. The lawyer must often create a risk profile quickly, based on limited information and their judgement. The culture of successful new e-businesses clearly calls for new and different skills from in-house lawyers. A strong traditional legal background is invaluable, but far from enough. From our perspectives – as legal director of Egg, the internet bank, and as external marketer leading four recent e-commerce launches – in-house counsel to new e-businesses must operate hand-in-hand with the business people at every stage of product development. They thus contribute directly to the success or failure of a product, and in doing so, to the life or death of the business.To better understand the skill sets required of corporate counsel to e-businesses, consider how lawyers contribute to five of the elements that are typically found in a product development and launch.
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