A Rare Bird: The Entrepreneurial Legal Officer

A Rare Bird: The Entrepreneurial Legal Officer
Written by
Teresa Reti
Published on
March 13, 2024

Countless lawyer jokes exist for a reason. Legal counsel is expensive, formal, obtuse, and often hindering—the oil to an entrepreneur’s water, seeking to flow ever further and faster. However, there is a growing trend of redefining the role of legal officers within entrepreneurial ventures.

Understanding the Traditional Legal Counsel Role

There is a natural desire to keep legal counsel at arm's length, fearing that once brought in-house, a lawyer might erect barriers that hinder a company's foundational verve. Typically, hiring a Chief Legal Officer (CLO) is postponed until the strategic aims and/or operational breadth of the company reach a complexity that makes it more economical to bring legal expertise in-house. In this scenario, the legal department is often cast as a cost center rather than a value driver, seen as a constraint rather than a partner in managerial decisions.

The Tipping Point: When to Bring a CLO Onboard

At Occam, we have the great privilege of working with company builders who understand the value of a CLO in its most fully realized form—a creative thought partner who compliantly facilitates risk and drives strategic innovation.

Casting Against Type: The CLO as a Strategic Partner

When viewed as a strategic executive with a JD, rather than just an attorney for hire or an administrative naysayer, the CLO becomes an invaluable consigliere. These individuals are adept at effectively harnessing an entrepreneur’s imagination and ambition, while ensuring legal compliance and mitigating risks.

Success Indicators for an Entrepreneurial CLO

They listen more than they say no, find concrete solutions while appreciating nuances, and strike a balance between rigor of thought and comfort with ambiguity. A focus on intellectual property, transactions, or commercialization is crucial, but these underlying characteristics are just as important indicators of success.

Real-World Success Stories: CLOs Driving Growth

Occam’s CLO and GC recruitment practice is thriving, with publicly traded clients at an inflection point such as Geron and KalVista. These companies have reimagined the role of legal counsel, embracing both strategic acumen and functional strength.

The Advocatus-in-Chief: A Rare but Crucial Find

Indeed, finding a CLO who embodies these traits may be a rare find—a rara avis among legal eagles. Yet, opening up the aperture of the role beyond cost and compliance is the first step towards identifying and empowering these unique individuals.

Redefining the Role of Legal Leadership in Entrepreneurship

By redefining the role of the Chief Legal Officer within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, companies can unlock new avenues of growth and innovation, ensuring that legal counsel becomes a strategic partner in the entrepreneurial journey, rather than a hindrance.

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