“Michael Clayton,” the movie, as an ugly, depressing depiction of a general counsel

The movie, “Michael Clayton,” intertwines a morality story around the absolute immorality of a general counsel. Far beyond merely defending a multi-year “$3 billion class action,” the general counsel (played tensely, minutely and wonderfully by Tilda Swinton), takes the law into her own hands, horrifically.

No movies portray far-sighted, benevolent corporations aided by their equally admirable in-house lawyers. The sad fact is, all I can recall are “A Civil Action” and “Thank You For Smoking” and Tom Grisham novels turned into movies where high-powered corporate lawyers or litigators – all of them in law firms – resolutely plot, protect, and perpetrate wrong. Nowhere have I seen a general counsel portrayed.

It’s depressing, for a long-time consultant to law departments, to sit through a very well-done movie that completely excoriates the scruples of in-house lawyers.

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