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On what basis might one bestow the description, the “toughest GC position in the US”?

A journalist, writing for InsideCounsel, June 2006 at 70, ruminates that Charles James, the general counsel of Chevron “might have one of the toughest GC gigs in the nation.” James himself modestly disagrees, as he thinks the general counsel at Microsoft or Merck might deserve that unwanted sobriquet.

The article emphasizes a number of pressures on James: a massive merger, a Supreme Court argument, legal spats in exotic places like the Amazon and Myanmar, ten thousand or so pending cases, and expenditures on outside counsel that near $100 million.

On the other hand, James has at his back some 300 lawyers in his department, a company so huge that virtually no lawsuit can rattle it, a mature and consolidated industry, and probably corporate resources such as professional HR and IT that many general counsel would envy. He also earns a whopping amount and piles equity and perks on top of that.

Sheer size of a legal footprint does not alone make the GC’s position tough. Although we instinctively favor King Kong departments, by which measure GE or Citibank’s top lawyers might have the toughest jobs, for my money many other general counsel grapple with harder jobs.

The solo general counsel of sizeable company is pushed and pulled in so many directions and may be hard pressed to keep up. The general counsel with a cramped budget and a hiring freeze may be under much more pressure to triage and make quick decisions than the GC of a sprawling department who can delegate work all around. The general counsel who toils for a CEO who dislikes lawyers and their costs and delays suffers a daily slog. The general counsel of a company that is being acquired must have a woeful time of it.

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