At Weil, we consider ourselves strategic business partners with our clients – you, the general counsel of large public companies, complex financial institutions and sophisticated private equity firms. In my 35 years practicing and running the firm at Weil, I have seen how tremendously the role of general counsel has evolved and expanded over the past four decades. The legal head of a large organization has always borne the heavy burden of ensuring excellence across their legal departments, management and oversight of all risk mitigation systems, and the development and enforcement of quality corporate governance protocols. But today, we are seeing the fusing of all these responsibilities with the business operations and over-arching corporate strategy. Senior lawyers are expected to be providing business judgement as well as legal judgement.
As a result, I’ve seen the role that we play, as outside counsel to our clients, also shift in that time. As we heard from the in-house lawyers who contributed to this report, there is now an interconnectedness of all business, strategic and legal issues. We carefully analyze legal issues for our clients, but we do not stop there. We supply commercial and business judgement, to help them answer that key question: ‘What should I do here?’ This makes for a dynamic time to be a lawyer, whether you are in-house or outside counsel.
I’ve also felt, more and more in recent years, that the legal leaders in organizations are expected to be responsible and responsive corporate citizens – far beyond the walls of their organization. We have always embraced that at our law firm, but now employees want their leaders to have an active voice on global issues that are impacting their lives – whether in or outside of the workplace. Again, this provides in-house legal teams and corporate management with a real opportunity to engage in a dialogue with their employees and address important cultural and social issues. It can forge and strengthen the bonds of loyalty so vital to an organization’s success.
There will always be new and changing developments to the practice of law and the issues facing in-house teams. What will never change is the need for bright, driven, collegial, diverse and adaptive lawyers to fill these roles. As the world and businesses grow more complex, the in-house leaders, including those profiled in these pages, will have the opportunity to be business as well as legal strategists. It’s exciting times, and I congratulate all of the dynamic and diverse GCs featured in this issue.
Barry Wolf Executive Partner Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP