No general counsel wants to be surprised by some event, not if a lawyer in the department had some inkling it happened or might happen. Drop-ins, phone calls, hallway chats, emails, and scheduled one-on-ones are all means by which the top lawyer keeps in the know about what’s going on.
Two other methods showed up in a presentation by Bart Colli, the general counsel of Aramark, in a PLI handbook regarding internal investigations (at 861). Colli’s single bullet point reads: “What the General Counsel Needs to Know memo to be operative at all times/Written staff reports monthly.”
I presume Colli has made it clear that if he ought to know something, put it in a brief memo to him. Different lawyers will have different thresholds for how often they send off such an update, but it certainly sets the tone: keep me posted! The second method, monthly staff reports, happens at more legal departments of much size. I have concerns that they become sclerotic, rote, and degenerate into self-promotion, but a general counsel can enforce standards (See my post of Aug. 1, 2006: burdens and benefits of staff reports; June 25, 2007: status reports to clients as an aid to setting priorities; Sept. 1, 2008: online wiki-like status reports; Jan. 13, 2008: report legal issues handled, not time; Nov. 23, 2008: status reports don’t clearly show how hard lawyers work.).