A huge company that only chooses partners from a law firm to become general counsel

The ties between some law departments and their primary firms can be very close, but a suffocatingly close one was referred to in Corp. Counsel, Vol. 16, Oct. 2009 at 20. Chevron chose Charles James to become general counsel in 2001; James had been a partner at Jones Day. James’ successor, taking over in August, is R. Hewitt Pate, a former partner at Hunton & Williams. Note the two most recent general counsel of the $263 billion Chevron were law firm partners. But those two selections are not the bearhug.

“Until James became GC, Pillsbury [Winthrop Shaw Pittman] partners headed Chevron’s law department for decades.” Decades! That is a law firm with a hammerlock on its client.

Dominance by a firm creates problems, one of which in Chevron’s situation is that the hard-working, good lawyers in Chevron’s in-house group were never promoted to the top spot. Indeed, they might have known that the ceiling was at the highest to be a direct report to an imported partner, never the top spot. How demoralizing that must have been! How much attrition it might have caused! How hard it might have been to recruit crackerjack, ambitious lawyers if they realized the brass ring was unattainable!

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