General counsel face rough politics and sometimes difficult CEOs – another example

A brutal piece in Fortune, Dec. 12, 2011 at 144, about the fall from grace of Bank of New York’s recently ousted CEO, Robert Kelly, gives a little insight into the sharp knives that surround big-time GCs. When Jane Sherburne took the top legal job in May 2010, “the board insisted that Sherburne take on the position of chief of governmental affairs – which meant infringing on a role that Kelly had enjoyed filling.” The board forced the new general counsel into conflict with her boss, that is to say.

Worse, the article describes how “more than once Kelly openly denigrated Sherburne.” At the pinnacle, it is a tough working environment as egos rage, power flashes, rumors and gossip whisper, and politics has a capital P (See my post of June 5, 2007: office Politics.).

For those who yearn for the top legal rung on the ladder, appreciate that it is slippery, high, and not all that stable. The general counsel can clash with the CEO or simply not fit in well (See my post March 8, 2010: the awkward relationship of AIG’s general counsel.).

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