The general counsel of NetScout Systems co-wrote a piece in the ACC Docket, March 2012 at 22. Early on, a sidebar sketches how general counsel over the past century have been perceived. The early 20th century, was the “golden age” of corporate counsel, “where the majority of corporate executives were lawyers, and the general counsel was often one of the three highest paid individuals in the company.”
The picture darkened in the second half the 20th century, “when large law firms became dominant, and the focus of commercial activity shifted to marketing and finance accounting.” So far did esteem for general counsel decline that their legal written opinions “were generally not deemed acceptable for various transactions.”
Today, “the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of corporate counsel as vital and influential members of the executive team.”
The authors cite a single source for these panoramic views: Carl D. Liggio, Sr., “A Look at the Role of Corporate Counsel: Back to the Future – or is it the Past?,” 44 Ariz. L. Rev. 621 (2002). That article cites nothing to back up the magisterial assertions about the golden age or the subsequent tarnish. Even less auspiciously, the law review editors explicitly acknowledge the utter lack of supporting evidence.
Unless someone can show some facts to back up a claim, or even an argument for its logic, the claim shrinks greatly in reliability. Possibly there were influential general counsel early in the last century, but to my knowledge legal departments were infrequent and small. As to the pendulum now, I would like to know how one would prove the statement (See my post of April 4, 2012: has managerial nous improved in law departments.).