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When it comes to hiring for a general counsel role in your business, it can be difficult at first to understand the nuances between an internal or an external counsel. What can be even tricker for businesses to understand is what exactly they want from their general counsel.

Laying The Foundations of Burch&Co

When Nich Burch founded Burch&Co about eight years ago, the firm was born out of frustrations and the perceived negative attitudes towards the law industry. “Once you get into the profession, more often than not, it’s not really a profession that people remain proud of,” said Nich.

When asked why is it that lawyers have this ‘bad reputation’ to begin with? Nich believes part of it comes from the uncertainty of costs, like ‘Will I get charged for every quick chat I have with my counsel?’ Another key factor for these attitudes is that many people don’t find it to be a useful exchange having to travel into the city, and sit in a stuffy room with their legal team, only to confirm what was already known and for there not to be a heap of value added.

That is exactly why Nich started Burch & Co.

“I wanted to transform the perception of lawyers into that of a trusted friend. I want lawyers to be the first people companies think of who they want to deal with in relation to their business, whether it’s to share exciting news, some sad news, a thought bubble, or different ideas they want to bounce around. In other words, to view their lawyer in the same way they view their accountant, PR people or their designers.”

A Human-Centric Philosophy

With these ambitions in mind, Nich curated a human-centric approach to how his team works with each client.

“To ensure that every piece of work that goes out meets this approach, our team is instructed to give their own informed opinion. That is, ‘If I were you, this is what I would do.’ That’s mandated of all of the lawyers that work on our files. The only way you can genuinely give that opinion is by listening to where each client is coming from and understanding the context in which the request for assistance has arisen.”

Think of the relationship between a business and general counsel as someone setting up dominoes in a row. If you’re not attentive and truly invested every step of the way, some of these dominoes won’t be able to fall. Some of them will be useless sideshows.

“To me, this philosophy is an identification that legal problems are really human problems and to actually listen to the humans; the people who you are dealing with, whether that be your legal opponent, your own client, or the client’s opponent or adversary, to actually understand what the motivating factors are for all of them and what a useful or good outcome is going to be.”

Why Outsource?

Due to the ever-evolving nature of client needs, what’s now being required of a general counsel is for them to have a particular area of expertise and a depth of knowledge in a specialised area.

If you’re a large company in the middle of a dispute, it’s definitely worth bringing in an external expert to help you navigate the legal minefield without getting bogged down in the details, enabling you to focus on the things that matter and keeping the business running as usual.

In a similar way, engaging an experienced transactions lawyer to be a single point of contact to manage the due diligence and acquisitions process ensures that the company can continue to play to its strengths. But according to Nich, it’s not enough to just identify risks.

“You need to be able to actually manage your clients’ potential risks, and have a breadth of legal experience to understand how to navigate an issue that mitigates against risk and minimises liability. A great general counsel should enable a business to do what it wants to do in the most risk-appropriate way.”

Understanding & Overcoming Barriers

Collaboration with companies and brands doesn’t come without some pitfalls to be wary of. Something as simple as ensuring clear, easy access to any and all documentation can become a major headache for both the general counsel and client if not managed correctly from the outset.

Another key barrier for general counsels, is as previously mentioned, the negative perceptions towards lawyers.

As Nich explains, “there’s definitely some reluctance to deal with anyone who has ‘lawyer’ in their title. There’s a bit of an element of mistrust or questioning to ‘are you here from the board to find out what I’m really up to?”

“The way we combat this is to build deep, personal relationships as soon as possible with each member, and being ourselves as much as we can with the people who we’re dealing with, so that they can understand and genuinely trust that we are all on the same team. Finding early opportunities to display our trustworthiness and credentials helps a lot”

Looking To The Future

The legal sector has a reputation for being conservative, but Nich and his colleagues have turned the tides to a more progressive nature in a number of ways.

This can be seen throughBurch&Co’s human-centred approach to clients, as well as the way the firm embraces changes in technology.

“We’re introducing a tonne of new tech that hasn’t been deployed in law firms before and we’re reaping the rewards, from that by way of efficiency, both internally and externally. Sharing contracts might have taken days to go back and forth, but document sharing can now happen in a quick, safe and secure way. Communicating in real time secure chat rather than via reams of emails has been a game changer.”

So what does the next decade look like for Burch&Co?

“I think that across all businesses, those that have a progressive mindset, who aren’t afraid of the future but are excited about the challenge of finding new ways to make things happen, are going to be successful over the next 10 and 20 years.”

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