Technology giant Microsoft has expanded the role of its general counsel in a move that highlights the growing importance of its in-house legal function.

Brad Smith (pictured) will take on the title of president and chief legal officer. He will remain general counsel.

Microsoft chief executive Nadella Satya said Smith will play a ‘bigger role in strengthening our external relationships and representing the company publicly.

‘I’ll also look to him internally to partner with others on the [senior leadership team] to lead the work needed to accelerate initiatives that are important to our mission and reputation such as privacy, security, accessibility, environmental sustainability and digital inclusion.’

The firm’s ‘leadership’ team will take on additional day-to-day legal responsibilities ‘to free up a portion of [Smith’s] time and focus’, Satya said.

Smith joined Microsoft in 1993. He spent three years leading the firm’s legal and corporate affairs team in Europe, followed by five years as deputy general counsel responsible for legal and corporate affairs teams outside the US. He became general counsel in 2002.

According to the company’s website, Smith played a ‘leading role’ within Microsoft and in the IT sector on government surveillance, privacy, intellectual property, immigration and computer science education policy issues.

Microsoft is currently fighting a US government attempt to force it to allow access to a customer’s email stored in the firm’s Irish datacentre. The case, which reached a federal appeals court in New York this month, is being widely watched by technology companies and online privacy advocates.

‘In a nutshell, this case is about how we best protect privacy, ensure that governments keep people safe, and respect national sovereignty while preserving the global nature of the internet,’ Smith said.