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General counsel and their broadening role in the court of public opinion

A law review article, based on empirical research, makes a good case for the vital role of general counsel when a company’s legal problems come to the unwanted attention of the public. Public relations plays a crucial role when there is a crisis or harsh scrutiny in the press and the article makes a strong case for the top lawyer to be on top of the crisis.

The article, written by Prof. Michele DeStefano Beardslee, is in the Georgetown J. of Legal Ethics, Fall 2009 at 1259. Prof. Beardslee interviewed 39 general counsels of S&P 500 corporations and obtained survey responses from 139 of them. Of the survey respondents, 12 percent of them directly oversee the PR department (at 1287).

My gut reaction is that general counsel should NOT carry the cross during a crisis. A legalist view of the world can create problems. Just because a person is well-spoken, intelligent, and disciplined does not make him or her – a top lawyer – a good spokesperson for a company in trouble.

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