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To run it by the general counsel or to run with it: general counsel and decision empowerment

A sticky point in many law department situations is whether a lawyer should make a decision on his or her own or first check with the general counsel. The nature of a hierarchical organization pushes people to protect themselves from later criticism; they run too many things by the boss. Naturally, the boss only wants to see boss-level problems, but everyone below feels safer if they err on the side of over-disclosure. Where decision-making authority is unclear, and too many inappropriate decisions are bucked upstairs, a law department bogs down (See my post of Oct. 22, 2006 on bureaucracy in law departments.)

No best practices exist as to this delicate balance – proceed on your own judgment or buck the call upstairs. I mostly believe in the aphorism “better to get forgiveness than permission” but that’s much easier said from the sidelines or the boss’s desk.