How to Navigate the Five Pathways of Corporate Legal Strategy

MIT Sloan Management Review (forthcoming)

Robert Bird. Co-author: David Orozco

CEOs, board members and executives are forced to navigate increased regulation, lawsuits, varying international legal regimes, and the greater prospect of liability due to stiffer legal penalties.  Top executives recognize that legal capabilities are a necessary element of long-term corporate success. A Financial Times study found that 24 percent of U.S. companies had lawyer-directors in 2000, and in 2009 that amount notably increased to 43 percent. Corporations generate tangible returns, such as higher stock market valuations, when they employ attorneys who serve as board members, and when top corporate officers have legal knowledge.

Paradoxically, the processes through which corporate legal departments provide competitive advantage remain poorly understood. The law is all too often viewed as a constraint on managerial decisions and is often perceived by executives as a source of costs. This prevailing cost perspective towards the law, while valuable, does not explain how leading companies employ their legal departments to secure long-term competitive advantage for the firm.

Robert Bird and his co-authors explain how viewing the law narrowly as a cost or compliance issue inevitably leads to foregone strategic opportunities, and introduce an actionable framework, the Five Pathways of Corporate Legal Strategy: avoidance, compliance, prevention, value, and transformation. These pathways should enable managers to think about the law strategically and identify value-creating opportunities, thereby creating long-term and sustainable value. Legal rules are not just a checklists to complete, but an opportunity to advance firm goals in a competitive business environment.

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