An exalted vision of the role of the Renaissance General Counsel

Interviewed by the CCCA Mag., Winter, 2010, the tub-thumping former general counsel of General Electric offers a grandiose view of the general counsel’s role.  According to Ben Heinemann, a trend that is more powerful than cost-cutting is “that business and society issues have become an important part of the CEOs job description.” Hard to dispute that.  However, he adds with a flourish, “CEOs need top legal talent with broad experience to deal with those issues.”


Why? No doubt, CEOs would like to have as excellent legal talent as their companies can realistically afford, but is there an expectation that the top lawyer should bring to the table such magisterial competence? Is it indeed the role of the general counsel to give guidance to the CEO on “business and society issues” and therefore to have the “broad experience” to do so in a constructive and insightful way? I don’t think so. Of course, good lawyering means thinking beyond narrow legalities of rights and responsibilities. Many times, that is fully challenging enough. If the expectation runs far beyond that – to dispense wisdom about complicated challenges that are peripherally related to the law – we have not just scope creep, but scope run.

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