Published on:

Does a general counsel face more difficult ethical pressures than colleagues if asked to do significantly more with less?

Assume that the workload of a law department increases steadily yet the CEO requires cuts in both legal staffing and outside spending. Does the imbalance of professional obligation as a lawyer to a client and the exigencies of a company struggling to stay afloat financially squeeze a general counsel between an ethical rock and hard place? A quote by an unnamed general counsel from a transportation company in Texas appears in Met. Corp. Counsel, Sept. 2010 at 49 and suggests such a pivot point. β€œAt what point does the expanded workload and reduced budget become an ethical issue for the GC?”

Even though the head of human resources or information technology or finance may face no comparable rules of professional conduct (a lawyer must fully and adequately represent a client), are they less troubled by budget cuts that prevent them from delivering the level of service they believe is needed by their company? All employees have recourse to resignation if the demands on them are unreasonable or harmful to others or their employer. Why is the top legal officer any different?

Posted in:
Published on:
Updated:

5 responses to “Does a general counsel face more difficult ethical pressures than colleagues if asked to do significantly more with less?”

  1. Everyone who owns a P&L at a corporation is under equivalent pressure, as you note. As a product owner for a time in my corporate days, I had deep, ethical obligations to my customers; whether or not there is law around the particular ethical guidelines, they’re real. When my budgets were cut, when my costs went up, I could either whine or find a way to do better, and most of all to do right by my customers. It’s no different in any business at a senior level.
    Not everyone is deeply ethical, in business or in law, as news stories reveal. But most of the business leaders I’ve worked with are as deeply committed as the legal leaders.
    It’s time to stop relying on “legal is different.” It is and it isn’t, to the same extent as “marketing is different” or “HR is different” or “customer support is different.” Bottom line — pun intended — is that GCs and law departments are part of the business world, subject to both their own constraints and business constraints.

  2. Battle says:

    Steven, I think that there is a difference between personal ethics and ethics regulations of state bars. While there may be pressures for anyone dealing with tough staffing decisions in a business, attorneys can be suspended or lose their right to practice law if that attorney violates an ethics rule. GCs have to deal with both moral pressures and regulations related to professional ethics, whereas an accountant may lose his/her job at one corporation but he/she could still have the ability to work as an accountant elsewhere. I think that Morrison’s questions are very good questions. At what point in company downsizing, which may be out of the GC’s control, does the risk of violating ethics rules come into play?

  3. Don’t know the author wrote this article in the first place is what, but I’d agree with your views

  4. Don’t know the author wrote this article in the first place is what, but I’d agree with your views

  5. Don’t know the author wrote this article in the first place is what, but I’d agree with your views