Federal Government Turns Up Heat on General Counsel

By Mary S. Diemer, Litigation News Associate Editor

Anyone who thinks that being a general counsel is a cushy position with a corner office, providing plenty of time for playing golf and other kinds of perks, is living in the past. At a recent roundtable hosted by the ABA Section of Litigation’s Corporate Counsel and Class Actions and Derivative Suits Committees, panel members discussed the changing roles of a corporation’s general counsel and the increased scrutiny, responsibility, and visibility placed upon them in the post-Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley regulatory environment.

These days, general counsel are subject to almost strict liability-if they could have stopped the conduct, they may be accountable regardless of whether they were involved.

There is no dispute that general counsel must pay more attention to corporate compliance, as the government perceives them to be a gatekeeper for preventing corporate misconduct. According to a study prepared by the Section’s Corporate Counsel Committee, which was discussed at the program, there have been at least 76 investigations, enforcements, and criminal proceedings against in-house lawyers in the last five years, with 24 of those resulting in criminal indictments or convictions.

For more see ABAnet.org and General Counsel Under Attack-Criminal and Enforcement Proceedings, investigations and the Travails of In-House Counsel (ABA 2007)

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