The career paths of in-house legal team members are changing as the lawyers address disruption

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From Everton Football Club in the UK to a conference in Las Vegas, the in-house branch of the legal profession is showing behaviour not common to lawyers: it is embracing process, data, technology and disruption.

In the second standalone Financial Times report on general counsel, the changes in corporate law departments are reflected in the profiles of our 20 global general counsel this year.

We also profile a new breed of in-house leader and the core team of Cloc, a group promoting the work of legal operations executives. What is startling about both these groups is that some of those highlighted are not lawyers. Instead, they have degrees in business, finance and, in one case, Italian literature.

It is a sign of how corporate legal departments are changing. The president of the Association of Corporate Counsel in the US calls general counsel more “savvy”. A large part of that savviness lies in recognising that in-house legal teams include myriad roles, far beyond being a lawyer or purchaser of outside counsel.

For managers of in-house legal departments, the skills required are becoming more complex. This lies behind the rise of legal operations executives and the decision of Cloc, which originated as a West Coast get-together in the style of a book club, to try to become a movement.

But while the way in which corporate law departments operate day to day is changing, there is also a call for general counsel to become thought leaders. Given the political tumult in the US, UK and Europe, companies are speaking up over what they see as unconstitutional behaviour of governments and potentially dangerous challenges to the rule of law and due process.

In couching their responses, chief executives look to their general counsel to guide them in becoming active corporate citizens. While this is particularly true in the US, multinationals in Europe, such as Nestlé, Shell and BT, are also at the forefront of UN Global Compact obligations and are seeking to support the rule of law in emerging markets.

On this geopolitical issue, many of the general counsel profiled in this report are leading the charge.

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