23 May 2010

A Great GC Knows Its Not Just Risk Avoidance

In my post, “Six Rules for a Successful Legal Career,” I left out a key mentor: Jerome “Jerry” Jenko. If my first legal mentor, Ed Stringer, was a lawyer’s lawyer, then Jerry was a businessman’s lawyer. Jerry replaced Ed Stringer in 1989 as the General Counsel of The Pillsbury Company after a hostile takeover by Diageo (all booze, all the time).

The first thing he ever said to me was: “Be the businessman who knows a lot about the law instead of the lawyer who knows a little about business.” His point being that if you’re just going to be a lawyer, your company may as well hire the lead corporate practice partner from Big, Local and Firm when needed, instead of having an in-house General Counsel.

A good General Counsel will learn your business, but a great General Counsel will learn your balance sheet, your competition and the industry, and then help you craft strategy, goals and vision in a way that uses the law as an asset in achieving them, not just a risk avoidance tool.

A great GC appreciates the opportunities presented by the lawsuit, deal, M&A, marketing campaign or the bull session in the C-Suite. A great GC knows that the successful business law counsel can’t be gleaned from the Restatement of Contracts 2nd, the USCA, or the UCC; rather, it’s the accumulated wisdom from thousands conversations with thousands of business people on how to achieve their goals, not how to avoid risks.

Three questions (out of hundreds) to help find your great GC:
  1. What is the role of the GC as part of the C-Suite? if you get risk management and “chapter and verse” from him vs. “driving business success,” place a call to Big, Local and Firm.
  2. What was the most interesting marketing/advertising campaign/product roll out you’ve been involved in? Look for passion, verisimilitude and a sense of ownership in her discussion.
  3. What is your role in creating a company’s vision? If he only vetted it after it was written... well, you know what to do.
  4. If you'd like more examples, let me know - I've got a list!
Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth 

[This is Pt. 2 of "Good GC or Great GC: The Seven Characteristics That Make The Difference", a series of seven weekly blog posts discussing what makes a great GC]

1 comment:

  1. Good points, Richard. Also, any blawger who uses verisimilitude ranks high on my admiration list! Rees