16 May 2010

More Sheriff Taylor, Less Wyatt Earp

The subtitle of this blog is “The legal generalist is the new specialist.”  The law has become so specialized, so complicated, that no specialist can truly advise the CEO or the Board on the wide scope of law that impacts every act of a corporation in the 21st Century.  The CEO, the Board and the executive  team desperately need their General Counsel to be a  true generalist.

Not a “jack of all trades, master of none” but a master of the breadth, height and depth of the law., its reason and its wisdom. She sees the forest. She sees the trees. She sees all the little pieces of the deal/business/environment, the mosaic they create, and, as a result, what needs to be done, the specialists needed, the knowledge to be tapped.  She brings ethics, finesse and wisdom to her counsel. She is a counselor at law.

In short, she is channeling Andy Taylor; not Andy Taylor of Duran Duran  --  Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry.

Andy was the consummate generalist. He really didn’t know the specifics of the law all that well (though Officer Fife could often quote chapter verse, for what its worth). He knew everyone in town. He networked at the barber shop (which was the pretty much the executive suite in Mayberry). He let his subordinate be himself and learn in his own way but kept him from hurting himself (you’ll recall he never let Barney actually carry more than one bullet) or anyone else for that matter.

In fact, Andy never carried a gun. Ever. As he explained it: “When a man carries a gun all the time, the respect he thinks he's getting might really be fear. So I don't carry a gun because I don't want the people of Mayberry to fear a gun. I'd rather they respect me.”

Wikipedia describes Andy has having “a level-headed approach to law enforcement [that] makes him the scourge of local moonshiners and out-of-town criminals, while his abilities to settle community problems with common-sense advice, mediation and conciliation make him popular with his fellow citizens.”

Mediator, conciliator and commonsense adviser.  A lawyer with those abilities you should hire in a heartbeat to be your General Counsel.  In most cases, she can only have those qualities if she has practiced law at length, paid her dues in a multiplicity of legal disciplines and positions, developed a healthy respect for her own ability to be wrong, and agrees with Abraham Lincoln (not Shakespeare): 

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has the superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

Of the seven characteristics that make for a Great GC, this one is the keystone - you don't get to be a Great GC without it!

[This is Pt. 1 of "Good GC or Great GC: The Seven Characteristics That Make The Difference", a series of seven weekly blog posts covering one characteristic per week.]

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this post Richard. I've worked in-house for the majority of my 10 years post-qualification and during that time I've been exposed to more and more areas of legal work outside of my original "specialism" of commercial contracts. During recessionary and cost-cutting times, even more so! You're absolutely right, this doesn't make GC a "jack of all trades", we need to recognise that the experienced generalists are the new specialists.