Building Trust: How Effective General Counsel Engage Clients [Updated: 3/23/2021]


There is no question today's most effective General Counsel/Chief Legal Officer is thinking strategically about how she and her team meet the growing demands of their fast-moving businesses. Whatever the industry, Boards, and CEOs are increasingly sophisticated consumers of legal advice. They demand business-savvy legal solutions to an increasing array of matters - from the most complex, sophisticated transactions to the most mundane, routine issues.

Engaged in-house counsel have evolved to meet the demand. They have learned how to be trusted business partners to their clients, working shoulder to shoulder to drive business outcomes that strengthen organizations, keeping them healthy, and adding real value to stakeholders in and out of the organization. But for many seasoned in-house attorneys, change has been challenging, and it has come too slowly.

CEOs Hire Business Partners

In the go-go days of your time in private practice, you learned to pivot from matter to matter, client to client, and partner to partner. Maybe you developed a niche specialization because of a big client's recurring demands or a specialized partner. Or perhaps you became de facto outside General Counsel for a small client or two. Whatever your practice mix, the diversity of matters you handled in private practice helped you become an expert advisor, deftly navigating pitfalls and roadblocks, anticipating opportunity, and peering around corners your clients could not see up ahead.

When an organization decides to bring legal expertise in-house, it can leverage those diverse experiences. Whether exploring new markets, contemplating a significant transaction, or building a risk/compliance program, executives want to know what other similarly situated organizations have done and how YOU helped get them across the finish line.

All the world experience will not help you empower your in-house clients if you do not know them well. Beyond the technical and the obvious (to you), solid, actionable advice requires an understanding of both the business and the personalities that drive it. It requires clear insight into Board and executive risk tolerance. It demands open, candid, and constant communication. And it requires real relationship building. Your client needs to know and trust you if they are to embrace your advice.