GCs: corporate executive first, lawyer and manager distant second (Oct. 23, 2005)

Combine the results from three questions in Corporate Legal Times and Dickstein Shapiro’s “Survey of CEOs,” (Oct. 2005 at 52) and a message shouts out: the CLO should act more as a business strategist who knows some law than as a lawyer who manages the law department.

One question asked “the most important thing your GC could do to improve the legal department,” and gave six choices with “other.” The action chosen most frequently (33%) was “Communicate more with business units.” Fifth on the list – below two cost-control actions – was “Provide more business guidance.” In short, the key desiderata were oriented toward business advice.

A second question asked where CEOs wanted their GCs to spend more or less time in the coming year, giving five choices. The largest positive gap between “more” and “less” was “learning the business” (71% wanted more and 29% less). The least valuable, by far, was “managing the legal department (33% more and 67% less). Again, the message is to attend to business.

Third, CEOs indicated how strongly they agreed with four statements. For the statement, “I want my GC to be a lawyer, not a businessman,” 34 percent agreed, 23 percent were neutral, but 43 percent disagreed. They want their GC to be a business executive. Further, regarding the statement, “It’s important that the GC understand accounting and financial issues,” a whopping three-quarters agreed.

Taken together, these CEOs expect their GCs to pull the oars most powerfully as a business executive who communicates heavily with the business, understands the business, and thinks profit and loss. Oh, and the job description has something about practicing law and running those lawyers.

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