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5 Things GCs Have to Know (That Aren't the Law)

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 17, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As more and more legal tasks move in-house, the legal department finds itself in the unenviable position of having to be master of several trades, many of which have little to do with the law.

I bet you thought when you signed up with the general counsel's office that you'd be filing lawsuits? Try again: GCs not only have to figure out new and innovative ways to put out fires, but the changing world of technology is putting some affirmative duties on them too.

Here are five subject areas that in-house lawyers are increasingly expected to know about:

1. Data Security.

If we've said it before, we'll apparently have to say it a thousand more times, because companies just aren't getting the message. Someone's going to try to get your data, for some reason, and it's up to someone in your organization to try to stop intruders. Hopefully, your IT department is taking care of the issue, but if not, it's time to have a friendly chat with the CIO and come up with a plan for implementing some protection.

2. Accounting.

"Business literacy" is an increasingly desired trait for new law school graduates, The New York Times' Dealbook recently reported. Some of this involves understanding how businesses operate, including the basics of accounting. In-house lawyers need these skills too; hopefully everyone in the legal department knows how to read a balance sheet and how corporate finance works.

3. System Administration.

Do you know what your company's backup retention policies are? How are email accounts created? Well, you probably should, or else you might find yourself in a cauldron of sanctions from which "I didn't know" isn't a way out. GCs are increasingly being required to understand how back-end IT systems work so that when discovery time comes around, the GC can be rest assured that important data are being archived and not just deleted.

4. Human Resources.

The Human Resources department ideally shouldn't be making a move without consulting the legal department first. Federal and state regulators are on a nationwide tour, fining and penalizing company after company for questionable labor practices, wage and hour violations, and civil rights issues.

5. Public Relations.

GCs need to know when to sue and when to hold back. Sometimes, aggressive enforcement of, say, a questionable trademark against a small entity isn't going to work. As we've found out most recently with the "Left Shark" from the Super Bowl halftime show, sending a threatening letter to someone who appears to be too small to fight a claim isn't the boon it used to be. With social media broadcasting flubs at the speed of a forehead slap, GCs need to know when to walk away from a legal fight or suffer the Streisand Effect.

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