Any lawyer can mark up contracts.

That was a statement made at the 14th annual SuperConference to emphasize the additional skills a general counsel must possess in order to be successful within a company and lead a legal department. At the event, hosted by InsideCounsel magazine, Jack Fortnum, executive vice president and chief financial officer, and Christine Castellano, senior vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief compliance officer, both of Ingredion, Inc., discussed the abilities a general counsel should possess, ways to strengthen relationships between general counsels and business leaders, and general advice from their positive working relationship.

The relationship between the general counsel and the chief financial officer, as well as other leaders, can help position a business for greater success. The general counsel must be able to work well with leadership and have a relationship built on trust and understanding that they are working together for the best interests of the company.

Through the discussion, specific requirements were addressed that a general counsel must possess. He or she must have an understanding of the basics, such as compliance around disclosure policies and strong relationships with leaders and the board. General counsel needs to understand how decisions are made, yet provide the necessary influence from a legal perspective while understanding the financials of the organization to fully evaluate guidance around those decisions. He or she also must have a deep understanding of the strategic direction of the company to provide input on what moves may need to be made from a legal or financial point of view.

For a company to have a legal team it can rely upon for guidance and counsel, the team must be integrated within the business. Having an understanding of goals, objectives, and strategic plans allows the legal team to provide advice and be integrated within the business operations. At the same time, the general counsel must be able to raise issues or concerns, stand firm, and even push the CEO, CFO, board members and other business leaders for the good of the company.

In building trust and a strong working relationship with leaders, the general counsel should know his or her background and experience, listen and understand objectives, and bring solutions forward that will benefit the business. The general counsel should not just say that something can’t be done, but should work with leaders to figure out how it could be done. If there are concerns or disagreements, put the facts on the table and address them in a professional manner. If there are questions or uncertainty around legal advice or other matters, the general counsel should have confidence to bring in outside counsel. The reliance on outside counsel can be leveraged to address a conflict of interest as well, whether with the general counsel, executive leadership, or board members.

Successful general counsels, through strengthening their relationships within the business, understanding the business direction, and working with leadership, put themselves in a stronger position to be a trusted advisor and business partner, enhancing their value to the organization, and helping position the business for future success.

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