The protean scope of the general counsel’s responsibilities – “reputational risk protector”?

True or false? “For large US companies and their general counsel, minimizing the risk of reputational damage is the biggest task confronting them today.” Magesterial words from the Financial Times (April 7, 2005 at 8), yet a thunderingly broad, and scary, assertion.

Everything a company does either polishes or scratches its reputation. Is the top lawyer that brothers keeper? CEO’s have no anchor to guide them in assigning responsibilities if the general counsel should principally be on guard against anything that besmirches a reputation.

Nor do I find comfort from Thomas Russo, GC of Lehman Brothers and one of the people cited in the article, saying that the “single most important aspect” of his job is to “create an environment … which maintains the highest integrity possible.” The article goes on to say later that “general counsel must execute policies that put ethics at the heart of business strategy. Ethics? Really? Breathtaking, admirable, almost theological, but is the gravamen of the chief legal officer cleansing corporate integrity and ethics?

Further to my post today on Microsoft’s Brad Smith managing government relations, what are the boundaries of responsibility for a general counsel?

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