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18 September 2020

'I don't buy the idea that truth comes from the top' - GCs reflect on their evolving roles

CMS publishes report focused on empowering general counsel with insight into best practice tactics amid pandemic

By Ben Rigby and Madeline Anderson


CMS has published a report featuring in-depth interviews with 18 European GCs who highlight the need for top in house lawyers to focus on ethics, credibility, value, communication and innovation.

Creating Connections and Bridging Gaps is the latest in a series of studies by the global law firm, produced in partnership with the European Company Lawyers Association (ECLA). 

Its publication comes at a crucial time for general counsel around the globe as they navigate new challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, made vivid in the report by the thoughts of the featured GCs.

Aurélien Hamelle of Total, one of the interviewees, said: "I don’t buy the idea that truth comes from the top. It comes with collective thinking."

Another contributor, Marta Cruz de Almeida, head of litigation at Galp, reflected on the ability of GCs to influence the direction of their businesses.

"As an in-house lawyer I feel I make a difference every day," she said, "much more than I would in a law firm." 

Researched in part prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the report focuses on the heightened role many in-house lawyers have taken on during the crisis, illustrating how they have had to be more flexible and creative while also becoming increasingly influential. The trend has been given momentum by the pandemic, but was well entrenched before then.

It is the eighth report in the series and differs from previous studies by taking a holistic approach. While previous reports focused on one aspect of the GC world, the 2020 research considers a wide range of questions faced by general counsel as they seek to grow their influence.

"The fact that I was keen to listen to people at all levels in the company made a difference," observed Silvia Bonacossa, GC at Xerox Italy, while Aneta Martišková, former head of legal compliance and HR at Glencore Agriculture Czech, said businesses valued "sound advice" which was "not always the best legal and technical advice".

"A senior in-house lawyer should be the person mitigating risk. It makes you more efficient as a GC, and also better able to be part of senior management," added Martišková, who is now group compliance and process manager at Solek Holding.

Innovation features strongly in the report given the need for corporate counsel to play positive leading roles in crisis response teams: it provides a tool called The GC Bridge Model, which is designed to help GCs build influence and strategies to succeed.

The tool complements an earlier model devised by the firm called the GC Value Pyramid, which was developed a decade ago and assesses the value of contributions GCs make to their companies.

Jonathan Marsh, international general counsel of Total, who is president of ECLA, said the report invited GCs to both learn about themselves and to incorporate innovative techniques from behavioral science to engage with both clients and their teams. 

Jonathan Warne, head of litigation and arbitration at CMS, added: "Whilst much of the report was prepared before the outbreak of Covid-19, the content is perhaps more relevant now.”

Words of wisdom

"I’ll know if I have done a good job developing my team if they go on to become GCs, not if they are still here in ten years’ time." Mark Cockerill VP legal – corporate (EMEA/APJ) and head of global privacy, ServiceNow

"In most cases, some thinking will make a grey situation more colourful, and probably safer." Liudas Basiulis head of legal, procurement and compliance, Neste Oyj

"I have encouraged some ambitious people to move out of the legal department into other parts of the business." Siegfried Schwung, former general counsel and corporate Secretary, KUKA

"We know what the business is doing and how the business is doing it. It’s our competitive advantage compared with external lawyers." Tiina Sepa, head of Baltic banking legal, Swedbank

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