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AUGUST 2014 - Sharon Berman
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The Role of General Counsel: How To Position Your Practice to Meet Your Client's Needs

by Sharon J. Berman

Creating and executing a clear marketing vision is key for law firms seeking GC opportunities

The role that a general counsel or chief legal officer plays in the survival, growth, and continued success of a company is more pivotal today than ever before. Whether in a large public company or a smaller privately held enterprise, GCs are no longer corralled into the narrow confines of a straightforward “legal” role; instead, they play many different parts, acting as protector, governor and strategist for the client’s legal interests. 

For law firms seeking increased GC opportunities, the greatest tool for generating corporate interest and ensuring confidence is a clear-cut and carefully executed marketing vision. In communicating your ability to fill these many different roles, your firm can help create new services and products to assist in-house legal departments. On their own, in-house counsel may very well be struggling to fulfill the necessary three-part mission of corporate protector, governor and strategist that corporate entities of all sizes now demand of their legal support.

With increased scrutiny from the media, federal regulators, elected officials, shareholders and even employees, corporations understand that they need savvy legal guidance to help them maneuver through potentially tricky situations. Although more legal work is being done in-house, there is still a high demand for outside counsel to advise the CEO and management team, particularly if GCs can demonstrate their worth as corporate protectors, governors and strategists.

Serving as a corporate protector involves more than simply enforcing compliance with industry and government regulations in order to sidestep fines and penalties. The most highly skilled corporate protectors take their role a step further and actually act as visionaries, mitigating current risk to their clients while taking steps to reduce the impact of what may be coming down the pipeline in the near future. Safeguarding corporate interests is one aspect of this role, but it also involves deft risk management and protecting the interests of many different constituencies as well.

Similarly, acting as a corporate governor is a multifaceted task that extends well beyond the boardroom. Issues such as transparency, cybersecurity, succession planning, and executive compensation are all involved in governance, but so too is the balancing act of protecting the corporate brand from the growing list of public interests that could broadside it with hardly a moment’s notice. Outside GCs or CLOs can offer valuable guidance and a unique perspective on how the corporate client can commit to best practices and strengthen the brand presence.

The third and final role is that of corporate strategist, which requires a progressive approach to planning and expanding the business of the corporation. Regulation, legislation and litigation on every level, from local to international, can have a severe impact on every aspect of operations, requiring a knowledgeable and insightful legal perspective. If your firm can add value to a corporation’s strategic planning process, you have already created an indispensable niche for yourself within that corporation.

Now that you understand what is required of a GC in today’s demanding landscape, your next task is to make sure that potential clients have a firm grasp on exactly how you can meet their pressing legal needs. To do that, you’re going to require a clear marketing strategy based on a very specific vision. Here’s how to begin:

1.    Learn as much as you can about your prospective corporate client prior to your meeting. What are their particular challenges? What opportunities lie before them? You can work independently or with your marketing department to find this information on social media profiles, blog posts, in news coverage, and in industry analyst reports. Once you’re armed with the proper knowledge, you’re ready to tailor your approach to that specific prospect.

2.    Choose one or two specific areas and ask for the opportunity to make a presentation to your corporate prospect. It may help foster stronger professional relationships if you include the GC and CLO in the planning process by asking them which topics should be touched on; in this way, the presentation will be strengthened and the lines of communication will be opened simultaneously.

3.    Suggest that your presentation be open, not just to the legal department, but to all those whose functions are involved, including outside vendors or industry experts where applicable.

4.    Target specific niche practice areas in which to build your visibility and credibility in order to create name recognition. For instance, if you choose to position yourself as an authority on cybersecurity, consider conducting an opinion survey. Not only will you glean valuable information, you’ll also raise your profile among prospects and clients. The results of your survey can then be converted into media opportunities such as article pitches, press releases, white papers, e-books and interview opportunities in both print and online publications.

5.    Consider organizing a conference regarding your chosen practice area, and invite clients and prospects to speak. Once again you’re establishing yourself as an expert, strengthening professional connections, and generating more opportunities for further media exposure. The more influential your voice becomes, the more interested in your services high-profile corporate clientele will be. Consider expanding beyond the local and even the national level by bringing in international entities and addressing universal issues that inspire real passion in people and corporations alike.

This type of marketing strategy demonstrates to prospects that you not only understand the role of general counsel as corporate protector, governor and strategist, but that you’re a positive force for change within the industry, and a true visionary to boot. Seize this opportunity to present yourself as a new kind of ally to your corporate prospects and prove that you can fulfill the three-pronged role that today’s corporate clients require of their GCs.

When you position your practice to meet the client’s needs, clients can’t help but respond positively. For law firms seeking increased GC opportunities, there is no better approach to marketing.

Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Corp. Marketing and Public Relations. The website is She can be reached at