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The few, the brave, the in-house stalwarts

“We evaluate courage as a behavioral characteristic of our lawyers, and we link this evaluation to compensation.” This comment, from John Donohue the General Counsel of Rhodia, Inc., probably refers to the intestinal fortitude in-house counsel need to take a position that is not favored by a client. It takes courage to say to a senior executive, “there’s a legal problem with your approach.” He is the subject of a profile in InsideCounsel, July 2007 at 96.

It also takes courage to reach a conclusion and defend it tenaciously (but honestly) against those who disagree, especially if they are higher ranking lawyers (See my post of April 12, 2006 about leadership and courage.). It takes courage to start a management initiative and stick to it through the bumpy start up period. It takes courage to deliver a tough evaluation to a subordinate.

Brave words from Donohue, one might say, but the evaluation of courage must be highly subjective. When do clients praise obstructionist lawyers? How can self-reports of bold conviction by lawyers be reliable? Or perhaps Rhodia’s law department conducts client-satisfaction surveys that ask about the courage displayed by individual lawyers.

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