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Dramatic increase in responsibility of general counsel over two decades according to the Harvard Business Review, with three of my own observations

The Harv. Bus. Rev., March 2011 at 65, has an article about “the new path to the c-suite.” One part looks at what it takes to become a chief legal officer. It explains what the author sees as the dramatic upgrade in the position of general counsel during the past 20 years. The major impetus has been “the heightened attention to risk management” that “broadened the role of general counsels over time.” No mention, I point out, of concerns about legal costs, only of risk mitigation.

Later the piece states, grandly, that “Increasingly, firms insisted that the top lawyer be at the table to discuss new initiatives so that their risks could be thoroughly analyzed before rollout.” Not so, I fear. Most general counsel struggle to be included during key business discussions, so “insistence” hardly conveys the resistance they sometimes encounter.

My last observation stems from the piece’s emphasis on regulatory experience as a must-have for CLO hopefuls. “To land a general counsel job today, a lawyer needs experience negotiating with legal and regulatory agencies and industry watchdogs” and cites the DOJ, FINRA, the SEC and FTC, Treasury and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. For some industries, to be sure, those regulators play huge roles, but for many industries, unless you have publicly traded debt or equity, none of them have much bearing.

I couldn’t help but note the “s” on “general counsel” in the starting quote. Have I been a mistaken grammar gremlin for a quarter of a century (See my post of March 22, 2006: first comment on the proper pluralization of general counsel; April 28, 2010 #3: to the same point and cites authority; and Nov. 30, 2010 #3: Fowlers lends support.)?

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