Monday, April 09, 2012

More Thoughts on the GC Role

Two articles piqued my interest today:  The first, from the Economist, weighs in on the increased sway that GCs have in the world of Sarbanes-Oxley.  The second, from Corporate Counsel Magazine, features an interview with former GE GC Ben Heineman, Jr.  Several observations:

  1. The theme of power shifting to the in-house legal leader, and the need for greater guidance and statesmanship from the GC feels very real to me.  However, in talking with colleagues, recruiters and others dealing with in-house positions, this hasn't set in everywhere.  I continue to see situations where the GC reports to the CFO, for example. 
  2. Walking the line between being a partner to the business and its guardian is the trickiest part of the job, and the one where the GC can add the most value.  But it requires knowing the business inside and out, and being willing to take smart risks whenever they are outweighed by opportunity.  This is a two-handed benefit - it makes the GC the partner of the business, and it provides him or her the credibility to take a stand when a business initiative must be shut down or modified.
  3. I'm with Heineman on compliance officers.  As I've pointed out before, I'd be nobody's choice for a compliance officer; I'm not nearly risk-adverse enough.  But the idea of having a compliance officer who DOESN'T report to the GC is a shockingly bad one.  Compliance is an important part of the legal work facing a company, but it's necessarily narrow.  And for too many of those handling the hammer of "compliance", every potential risk can look like a nail.  Far better, then, for the GC - the one executive in the company equipped to sort "compliance" from "bona fide risk worth taking" - to make the final call.