As members of the San Diego business community tighten their belts in the face of an uncertain economy many companies will examine their legal budget with an eye towards cost-containment. In addition to financial reasons, attention to compliance is ever-necessary in times like these. And while a large number of corporations already employ corporate counsel, others may now seriously consider the financial and strategic advantages to bringing a legal function "in house." Those executives might consider the following capacities whilst evaluating a candidate:
The perennial challenge for corporate counsel, whether they're working for a small, family-owned business or whether they report to a multi-national board of directors, is to preserve their role to advise the corporation while gaining the trust and respect of its governing body. The responsibility to provide sound legal counsel tailored to the advancement of a corporation's business interests can produce respectful disagreements between the legal and operations departments. The ability to successfully bear this responsibility requires a firm commitment to ethics and professionalism. At the end of the day, the integrity of a company is premised on the actions of those who run it, and an in-house attorney wields a powerful wand within that corporate framework.
Dedication and Achievement
Serving as corporate counsel can be a lot of fun. The role provides ample opportunity to contribute to different aspects of the business and indulge one's other creative, non-legal inclinations. The absence of time management software is another perk. But the role requires a conscientious professional who is driven to work hard for the benefit and protection of their company. Participation in various bar associations enhances one's network and provides additional resources for support, which then translates into efficient solutions (cost- and otherwise) for the corporation.
The issue of balance permeates all areas of the legal profession. But there is more to it than the obvious intrinsic value in achieving balance between one's professional and personal commitments. In-house counsel involved in their community, whether via pro bono work or volunteering, are able to bring new perspectives to their in-house role achieved through that non-corporate exposure. These activities also provide opportunities to relate to one's non-legal peers within the company. Good relationships are essential to ensuring an employee thinks to "ask the lawyer" before an issue arises.
Support of Diversity
Corporate counsel involved in their community are also well-situated to educate their executives on the benefit of a commitment to diversity in their hiring practices and to help design tangible and intangible benefit programs directed at improving employee retention rates.
As companies increasingly look to streamline operations, the demand for counsel with strong leadership qualities, a solid work ethic and the ability to balance a wide range of interests and responsibilities is sure to rise.
Criteria established in collaboration with Exclusively Legal, ACC-San Diego, the Legal Arts Group, and Elizabeth Balfour (Sheppard Mullin).
Narrative provided by Elizabeth Daniels, Chief Legal Counsel for the SIMNSA Health Plan and President for the San Diego Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.