How general counsel can support their companies—and themselves—moving forward

An online event held by Juno Legal reveals that seeking support and setting the right expectations are crucial

How general counsel can support their companies—and themselves—moving forward
Helen Mackay, Juno Legal

New Zealand has been under the pump since the onset of COVID-19, and many companies have taken a hit during this period. Thus, general counsels (GCs) are being called to step up and provide support to their companies in this crucial time.

“The rapid adoption of technology at pace in all organisations shows there’s a huge opportunity here for in-house legal teams,” said Helen Mackay, director of Juno Legal. “There is great opportunity for the in-house legal profession to support businesses to feel confident to continue with that pace and innovation in the future, for the benefit of our organisations, our profession and also for New Zealand Inc.”

The firm recently held an online event for GCs, and Mackay shared some key points from a talk about “reimagining the future” in light of the current climate.

First, Mackay said, GCs must “balance the need to act with urgency with robust decision-making,” ensuring that “lawyers play their part in good governance supporting good decision-making.”

“Assess how your team can do its best to protect the board, protect the CEO and other decision-makers through this period,” she said.

GCs must also capitalise on the opportunity to reset expectations, both for themselves in the role of in-house legal and for the company, she said.

“It is also timely to reset the business’ expectations about the role it plays in community and society, and the way it goes about doing its business,” Mackay said.

The legal department can be an important link between teams, bringing “different business partners together to find solutions,” she said. In some cases, it can be a chance for the department to step back as necessary.

“Have the bravery to step aside so legal doesn’t have to be at every table it is invited to if someone else has a more useful skillset to contribute,” she said.

It’s important for GCs to remember that not every responsibility falls on them, and that they also need to know where to seek support.

“Ditch the stoic Kiwi attitude and don’t try to do it all yourself as general counsel,” Mackay said. “Ask yourself what expertise you don’t have or didn’t need to build in your organisation in the growth days that you’re going to need going forward—whether commercial, employment or insolvency lawyers or PR support.”

Mackay’s other key takeaways included:

  • Communicate transparently with all your stakeholders and then constantly update those communications to add knowledge as it comes to hand
  • Make yourself available to your team and act with empathy. Try to feel what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes – be that your director, your internal business client, your organisation’s customer or your lawyers and other team members 
  • Be the person who reinforces the real importance of record keeping and good note-taking in your organisation.  Regulators come with 2020 hindsight and want to know how your organisations made the decisions they made, regardless of the challenging environment those decisions were made in
  • Reflect and review how well you and your team have performed through this crisis and how you’re coming out. Identify and implement those opportunities for improvement
  • For your own wellbeing, understand the importance of your professional network especially during a recession. Put time into building your network to ensure you know more people and they know you. Use LinkedIn actively and connect with people who you meet

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