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back to index backAMERItalk May,  2005


General Counsels: the new guardian of corporate compliance

The general counsel has become the most influential executive at major U.S. companies after the CEO and CFO, writes Andrew Parker in the Financial Times.

General counsels are generally responsible for fostering an effective corporate culture of compliance. However, the recent wave of corporate scandals has turned their biggest challenge into minimizing the risk of damage to a company's reputation via individual business deals, notes the author. General counsels are consequently closely involved in all aspects of a firm's business, which can lead to tensions and undermine their objectivity, warns the author.

Sarbanes-Oxley is pushing general counsels to spend more time checking that companies meet disclosure requirements. In-house lawyers are expected to report the wrongdoings of listed companies directly to the Chief U.S. financial regulator, the SEC or face personal exposure to lawsuits.

In-house lawyers, on the other hand, argue that they can only create a compliance culture if seen as business partners, not police officers. Tougher rules have also led European firms to adopt a more U.S. style of chief legal officer, add Bob Sherwood and Philip Stafford. In Asia, where corporate governance and mergers/acquisitions are traditionally lower priorities, general counsels remain less important figures. However, this looks set to change in the future as Asia slowly adopts European and U.S. practices, conclude the authors.

Source: Egon Zehnder International
 - GAI


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