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General Counsel: Guardian of the Company

What is it like to work with General Counsel? What is a General Counsel? How is it different from working with a solicitor’s firm?

Christopher Agace LLB (Hons), MBA, Barrister, Portfolio General Counsel with My Inhouse Lawyer, explains the major role a GC can play in helping a business and how working with the right management team, can be a super hero in a business suit.

I am a portfolio GC with My Inhouse Lawyer, which means I provide hands-on legal and commercial counsel  to owner-managers and senior managers of a limited number of retained SMEs.

In the last two months, I have been asked to lead, negotiate or support more legal issues than most individual businesses will come across in years. Last week, I helped complete a small corporate transaction for an entrepreneurial client and negotiated away a notice to quit from a commercial landlord. Next week, I will be finalising the investor documentation for a FinTech raising funds, helping an LLP adopt its first generation of new partners and setting up a final account negotiation for a construction client. I will be undertaking this work with the benefit of on-site, in-depth insight into the businesses of my clients and at a cost to the client which will be much less than may be experienced with an external law firm.

GCs need to have boardroom-level impact but they also need to be prepared to get their hands dirty. This is where we excel at My Inhouse Lawyer. We don’t just give advice. We do the doing  – with a constant eye to the context and objectives of the business. For this, the GC needs to be a team player at all levels of the Company.

KPMG describe GCs as “increasingly a core part of the leadership team, expected to apply their legal skills to commercial challenges across the business… the only senior executive expected to combine legal expertise with business acumen… [helping] to protect the company from threats [and] also help it create value on the upside” which I think reflects the role quite nicely.

I have a client who has been growing steadily and now finds itself being commissioned to undertake work of much higher value, for a more diverse client-base than it conceived of when it started as a sole trader thirty years ago. My role is to undertake a fundamental review of its contract processes, from their simple telephone orders through to their full-service on-site engagement with customers. The object is to produce an upgraded suite of contracts that my client’s teams can use as their standard form and mostly have accepted without negotiation.

The outcome of the review will not be successful unless I can get inside the business and understand how the teams are currently negotiating, securing and managing their work. I need to understand the business process, its flex or rigid points; and I need to have an insight into the needs and expectations of my client’s customers. I need to be on-site talking to staff, interacting with management and reviewing past experiences – capturing the good and learning from the bad. Talking to staff is a highlight – there is so much learned-experience that has been of benefit to the company over the years. I can often capture the learned-experience in how we express the contracts and thus embed bespoke tactical gains into the processes of the Company overall.

On one of my days in the client’s offices, a manager calls me over to her desk as I am walking past. She has a letter from a recruitment agency demanding that the Company pays them an exorbitant recruitment fee for someone who is now working in their business. Oops! One short conversation later we make an email response. Five days later and a phone call from me, we have the ‘dispute’ settled on terms that have paid my fees for the contracts work. I send out a short bullet-point note to staff about recruitment traps for the unwary… and at least one person prints it.

My hero of the last six months has been my client MD who when faced with a customer being unable to pay a six-figure invoice, instead of shooting the customer, asked me to negotiate a debt-for-equity swap. I think there is a good chance he will make a substantial return out of it – on top of the amount of the outstanding invoices.

Whatever the cause, GCs are always dealing with the issues from the inside out. SME’s can be confident that their My Inhouse Lawyer GC is focused on understanding them and their business, holistically, and on delivering value that a business owner can measure.

 

 

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