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A dozen components of a general counsel’s power over subordinates and limits on them

Henry Kissinger reviewed a biography of Bismarck in the NY Times Book Rev., April 3, 2011 at 10. He praises the Chancellor’s exquisite use of power and remarks more generally: “Power, to be useful, must be understood by its components, including its limits.”

That sentence provoked me to think about the components of power a general counsel can exercise as well as some of their limits. Managerial power vis-à-vis lawyers who report directly to the general counsel includes the right to (1) promote, (2) re-title, (3) award a bonus, (4) increase a salary, (5) send them to executive education, (6) place them in a high-potential program, (7) assign them work, (8) publicize achievements, (9) rearrange responsibilities, (10) locate offices, (11) set and evaluate personal objectives, and (12) shift subordinates – or to withhold or restrict any of them. In short, anything a manager can legally offer an employee or withhold exercises power.

Each of those decisions, each of which wields and manifests power, has limits. Human Resource policies and practices curtail the profligate bestowal of titles and compensation; a desire for internal equity and the congenial dynamics of the rest of the lawyers constrain too much lavish attention or harsh retribution. Then too client demands and headcount constraints hedge in some choices. Even with some reins, the components and variations of power cover much ground.

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