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Here you are, slumped in your swivel chair and buried beneath stacks of legal documents, contracts, and an ever-growing list of tasks that seem to mock your attempts at productivity. It would seem like a storm is brewing around you as you juggle calls from colleagues with urgent needs, senior managers seeking legal advice, and the sales team pressing you to review yet another document, all underscored by the ceaseless ping of incoming emails.

You're thinking: this is what hitting the "breaking point" feels like! It's a moment frozen in time, capturing the intensity and pressure that come with being a legal professional.

But what if you didn’t have to deal with all of that in the first place? What if stepping back from the frontlines was all you had to do to help your organization cover more ground?

Here, we discuss the various repercussions you could suffer by getting over-involved in the minutiae of legal work as a GC, why you need to step back, and strategies you should incorporate to successfully transition from the daily chaos of legal documents and constant interruptions to your role as a strategic leader, not just for your sanity, but for the ultimate growth of your organization.

Why being too involved in the legal day-to-day can be bad for you

Why being too involved in the legal day-to-day can be bad for you
 “I think the greatest failure you can make as a General Counsel is to think that you have to continue to do everything yourself.”

Rob Beard, Chief Legal Officer, Mastercard
How a GC Promotes Organizational Excellence

The traditional GC is a gatekeeper of legal matters within their organization, tasked with interpreting complex regulations, handling contracts, and resolving legal disputes. But, the modern business ecosystem brings along a paradigm shift to legal responsibilities, requiring GCs to evolve from mere legal advisors to dynamic strategic leaders who shape the organization's legal, ethical, and risk management landscape.

While it is essential for GCs to stay on top of fundamental responsibilities, becoming too deeply entrenched in the day-to-day legal operations can have detrimental repercussions, a few of which we’ve discussed below:

#1 Risks of burnout

Burnout is a form of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion often caused by prolonged periods of chronic stress and overwork. This is sadly a common challenge in the legal industry, affecting 62% of legal professionals in the last 12 months.

The legal profession often involves high-pressure situations, tight deadlines, and complex cases. If you're constantly in the thick of daily operations, reviewing documents, and running administrative functions, the stress can compound over time, wearing you out mentally and emotionally.

#2 Reduced efficiency and impaired decision-making

When you dive too deep into the trenches of legal work, juggling with everything, it can become difficult to prioritize tasks effectively. You may spend too much time on minor issues at the expense of more critical matters. Your decision-making ability may also be affected as you may find yourself being more reactive than proactive, making hasty decisions, and being less creative with your approach.

#3 Missed opportunities

When you are too engrossed in daily operations, you may fail to see the bigger picture and miss potential opportunities for growth and improvement. Legal environments are constantly evolving, and when you’re too busy with the smaller things, you may not have the time or mental bandwidth to identify areas where legal processes could be optimized for better outcomes.

An excessive focus on operational tasks can also keep you distracted from opportunities for networking and professional development. You may end up missing several industry events, conferences, and connections that could’ve been advantageous for your team and organization.

#4 Strained relationships

When a GC inserts themselves into every detail of the team's work, it can create the perception that they don't trust their team members to handle tasks independently. This can be demoralizing for the members of the legal team, as it suggests that their expertise and judgment are not valued.

Being engrossed in the minutiae of legal operations creates a perception of micromanagement, which takes away autonomy, hinders creativity, and causes frustration among employees.

“A really important matter will come in, and I’ll want to dig into it because I’m really interested in the legal issues or there’s a problem to solve and I want to get in and solve the problem. When you do that, you remove the opportunity for these awesome people that you hired and brought in and work with you to do that. You take away some of their development opportunities. You take away some motivation from them.”

Rob Beard, Chief Legal Officer, Mastercard
How a GC Promotes Organizational Excellence

Furthermore, GCs who are too involved in daily tasks may have limited time for effective communication with other departments and senior management. This can result in a poor collaboration culture, misunderstandings, and conflicts.

#5 Elevated risks of errors

When the GC is burdened with an excessive workload and too many tasks to manage, they may not have the time or mental bandwidth to give each task the attention it deserves. In a bid to fit every task into your limited time and mental resources, you become more prone to oversights and omissions.

Additionally, when you’re excessively involved in daily operations, you may not have the time to keep up with the constantly changing legal and industry compliance landscape. This elevates the risks of non-compliance, which can have critical consequences for your organization.

Stepping back from the frontlines: Why GCs need to embrace the backstage

Stepping back from the frontlines: Why GCs need to embrace the backstage
“There are good reasons to get out of the day-to-day work on any deal or any matter and sit above it and think about how the deal or the transaction or the matter impacts the entire company.”

Rob Beard, Chief Legal Officer, Mastercard
How a GC Promotes Organizational Excellence

As a GC, the chaos of daily legal operations should not be associated with you. You have a higher calling, away from the frontlines to a role as a strategic leader and business partner, which is mission-critical to the success of your organization.

Embracing your spot behind the scenes allows you to have a birds-eye view of your team’s performances, provide strategic guidance, and identify opportunities more effectively. This shift in responsibility is crucial, not just for you but for the overall success of your organization.

More details below.

#1 Improved focus on strategic leadership and business partnership

The modern corporate landscape requires GCs to assume the role of strategic leaders and business partners, helping organizations make business decisions that align with legal standards and ethical principles.

Taking a step away from the daily legal grind allows you to save much of your time and mental bandwidth for strategic planning and activities that help the business in the long run.

A GC who embraces the strategic role can become a true business partner to the executive team and other departments. You can offer legal insights that are not just about compliance and risk mitigation but also about seizing opportunities and driving innovation. This partnership fosters better decision-making across the organization and enhances its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

#2 Better cross-functional collaboration

General Counsels are often the bridge between legal matters and other business functions, such as sales, finance, and human resources. By reducing your involvement in daily legal tasks, you can spend more time collaborating with these departments, providing legal guidance, and understanding their specific needs and challenges. This facilitates smoother cross-functional collaboration and aligns legal strategies with broader organizational goals.

Also read: How to enable collaboration between legal and business 

#3 Improved team motivation and performance

By taking a step back from day-to-day legal operations, you empower your team to step up to the plate and take ownership of situations.

By doing so, you not only push them to become more self-reliant and creative but also build a reputation as a leader who trusts them and supports their growth. This not only benefits the efficiency and effectiveness of your legal operations but also contributes to a positive and collaborative work environment where everyone feels appreciated and motivated to excel in their roles.

#4 Enhanced risk management

By stepping back from daily legal operations, you have the opportunity to assess the organization's activities and potential risks from a broader perspective. This means not just looking at current issues but also anticipating future risks that might not be immediately apparent when you're deeply involved in day-to-day tasks.

This holistic view also allows you to prioritize risks by their potential impact on the organization's objectives and reputation. This not only helps the organization avoid legal pitfalls but also enhances its ability to seize opportunities with confidence, knowing that legal risks are well-managed.

Also read: Legal Risk Management—From the Playbook of 11 GCs & Leaders

#5 Enhanced productivity

Stepping back from the chaos of daily legal work enables you to effectively prioritize activities, delegate tasks and resources to the right team members, and establish standardized workflows. This improves efficiency, reduces bottlenecks, and ensures a more consistent approach to legal matters.

Before you step back: 6 tips for optimal transition

Before you step back: 6 tips for optimal transition

While stepping back from active involvement in the day-to-day operations of your legal department does give you some free time to focus on strategic responsibilities, doing it the wrong way can have counterproductive repercussions.

To get the best outcomes, the foundation must be solidly laid out, with careful planning and strategic execution. Below, we've discussed six crucial steps you should never overlook.

#1 Assess your current responsibilities

Start by creating a comprehensive inventory of your current responsibilities and tasks as the General Counsel. This should include everything from high-level strategic duties to day-to-day operational tasks. Categorize these responsibilities into different tiers based on their importance, complexity, and strategic significance.

Distinguish between critical responsibilities that require your direct involvement and routine tasks that can be delegated or automated. Critical responsibilities might include providing strategic legal advice to the executive team, managing major litigation, handling regulatory compliance, and setting the overall legal strategy for the organization. Routine tasks may include contract review, legal research, and administrative duties. 

#2 Establish a clear delegation framework

Having identified routine activities that run through your legal department, it is time to define how you delegate them.

Break down these tasks into different components, like general administrative duties, contract review, litigation management, compliance oversight, and more. Prioritize them based on their impact on the organization's strategic goals and the expertise required to complete them, and establish a clear delegation framework that outlines the responsibilities you’re transferring to team members and external partners.

"Previously, there was a bit of chaos with everyone doing everything. Now, we've restructured and defined roles, allowing people to know exactly what they're responsible for. The results have been remarkable."

Bhavna Singh, GC & DPO, Subex Limited
Elevating Legal: Fostering Transparency and Accountability in Large Tech Enterprises

#3 Empower your team members to become self-reliant

Invest in the development of your legal team by providing them with the necessary training, resources, and guidance to handle complex matters independently. 

Encourage a culture of continuous learning and problem-solving within your team so they can confidently address legal issues without constant oversight. This not only helps them grow but also provides you with enough free time to focus on higher-level strategic initiatives.

“You are only as good as your team! Guide and mentor the team as and when necessary. Once they know what to do, trust them to do their job well.”

~ Bhavna Singh, GC & DPO, Subex Limited
Elevating Legal: Fostering Transparency and Accountability in Large Tech Enterprises

#4 Define key performance metrics that matter to your organization

To align your legal department's efforts with the organization's strategic goals, establish key performance metrics that reflect the impact of legal work on the business. Metrics might include cost savings, risk mitigation, compliance improvements, or successful negotiations. 

Regularly track and report on these metrics to demonstrate the value of the legal department's contributions.

Also read: Rethinking In-House Legal OKRs, KPIs, and Goals

#5 Establish standardized workflows

Start by identifying the most common and critical legal workflows within your department, like contract management, compliance reviews, litigation management, and more. Develop comprehensive Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each workflow, outlining their step-by-step processes, timelines, and milestones.

Leverage technology for streamlining these workflows. For instance, you can use a Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) system like SpotDraft to automate multiple aspects of your contract management tasks, from contract drafting and review to approval and tracking. This can significantly improve efficiency, accountability, and consistency within the legal department.

#6 Seek advice from GCs with more experience

Consider seeking advice from other General Counsels who have successfully transitioned from day-to-day legal work. Prioritize GCs with a wealth of experience and a track record of effective leadership. Their insights and experiences can provide valuable guidance as you prepare for this important change.

Moving on

“When you become a General Counsel, the job is so much more about people and strategy, and less about the day-to-day legal work, and for every General Counsel, I think it is a challenging transition”

Rob Beard, Chief Legal Officer, Mastercard
Why GCs need to step back from day-to-day legal work

Stepping back from the minutiae of legal work is not just a personal decision. It is a strategic move that can redefine your role as a GC and drive your organization toward greater success.

That said, it is crucial to recognize that this transition doesn't happen overnight. It requires careful planning and execution. But as you make this shift, you'll have more time and mental bandwidth to drive even more critical accomplishments. Your team will become more motivated and self-reliant, and your organization will benefit from improved decision-making, better compliance, and enhanced productivity.

As you work your way out of the frontlines, introducing innovative tools into your workflows is a surefire way to ramp up productivity among your legal team when you’re not actively involved. SpotDraft CLM, for instance, comes loaded with robust templates, workflow automation tools, a reliable central repository, and more, which combine to streamline every aspect of your contract management lifecycle, from contract drafting and review to negotiation and execution. That way, your legal team can accomplish routine contract management tasks more efficiently.

Want to see how it works? Request a custom demo.

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