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Three points from a general counsel panel: crisis, curves, and counselors

An excellent panel at the SuperConference presented the top legal officers of Allstate, Ford, and P&G. Three of their comments may be old hat to veteran GCs, but they struck me as worth a mention.

Discussing why all three had government experience on their resumes, two of the general counsel reflected that “being in a senior government position is to be shot at all the time from many directions” and that to top lawyer for a big company is similarly under the gun, under fire, and under water in constant “crisis mode.” Only hairy problems reach that desk and the flow can never be staunched.

Second, “There is a huge learning curve when you become a general counsel.” The new general counsel’s leadership demands enlarge enormously, the scope of oversight and expectations of familiarity with the business magnify, massive doses of the cultural and historical roots of the company need to be absorbed, and the legal issues range far beyond what experience has brought their way. Hitting that curve, to mangle my metaphors, challenges any general counsel.

To cope with constant crisis and the steep climb of learning, a third nugget of wisdom is to have a few trusted advisors. Few people speak truth to power, but wise counselors outside the company who have known you before canonization help you as a sounding board and as a corrective to hubris or panic.

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