25% to 30% of Chief Legal Officers have been in their roles for about 3 years or less. They are part of the new generation of GCs who are taking over from the baby boomers. And we expect this number to more than double over the next 5 years.
Now is the perfect time to learn exactly how different the new generation GC is from the legal decision makers they replaced. My conversations with more than 100 of these GCs reveal striking demands and expectations. 6 stand out:
1. I’m Doing More Pre-hire Due Diligence Than You Can Imagine
The new generation GC is conducting due diligence on you before you ever meet. They will check you out with their peers, see where you have been quoted in a credible, independent publication (hopefully in their industry’s publications). Your potential new client will have thoroughly read your website, your LinkedIn profile, and checked for common connections so they can dig deeper with people they know. Finally they will check your bio and Google you just to see what they can learn.
And again, all this will likely take place before you ever meet. The process will have started when they got your name from a peer.
2. You Need to Earn Your Keep
You will always be expected to add to the relationship. You can bring new and unique knowledge, train client staff, give them tools and checklists and a whole raft of valuable add-ins. Your client fully expects you will make their life easier AND make them look good as a part of the ongoing relationship.
It’s about the experience and the results. Your new generation client will believe your counsel, promises and projections about a matter’s outcome. But this is only part of the equation. These clients place more weight on the overall client experience. They will ask themselves how smoothly the process went. Were there surprises or was my law firm always one step ahead? Did they tell me everything I needed to know—before I needed to know it? Did they make the process easier for me? And, what was the outcome?
3. I Measure By Metrics and So Will You
New generation GCs have metrics they live—and often get paid—by. These clients not only report on total spending against budget, litigation matters settled, productivity (legal spend as a percent of revenue), but also where they were able to accelerate permits and regulatory approval, as well the status of major projects and products they support.
You will be expected to design your reporting systems and your metrics around their needs and requirements. Your goal is to provide as much of this information as you possibly can. Anything less causes your client more work.
4. I Get Feedback on How You’re Doing—Do You?
Your new generation GC asks everyone on their staff—and business unit leaders—for feedback on your performance. They will rely on this feedback in assessing performance and in thinking about the next assignment they have. If you aren’t asking your client directly, they are left to wonder how law firms can operate and meet their needs without feedback. Not just leadership visits—but pointed feedback.
5. My Boss Never Once Asked Me About Legal Risk—But I'm Asked About Business Risk All The Time
The new generation GC is tasked with translating legal risk into business risk. They need to anticipate questions about business implications and maybe even stock price. You will be expected to study their company’s business like they studied you before hiring.
6. You Can Get More Business Than Ever Before
Less is more. The fewer law firms with deep knowledge on the new generation GC roster the smoother things will go, so these clients are inclined to give more business to fewer firms to help them meet their goals. This means more business for you than you saw from their predecessors—which could point to larger, ongoing relationships than law firms have seen before.
The first wave of new generation GCs suggests law firms will have more opportunity to develop bigger and deeper relationships. Those law firms who can embrace the new demands will do well with all general counsel—next generation or not—as they are all facing the same pressure. The big difference is the new generation is unrelenting. And as much as they are more inclined to develop larger law firm relationships than ever before—they are also willing to make changes quickly and are more skilled in onboarding new law firms.