07 July 2010

Why Your GC Shouldn't Be An Atheist

So here we are at the end of a long series of blog posts on what I believe to be the six characteristics of a great General Counsel (I started with seven but decided that I didn't like one of them). 

We’ve covered five so far:
  1. More Sheriff Andy Taylor, less Wyatt Earp.
  2. A businessman who knows a lot about the law, not a lawyer who knows a little about business.
  3. Manages real risks, not theoretical ones.
  4. Knows the best legal solution is not always the best business resolution.
  5. Realizes that over-lawyering and under-lawyering are equally expensive.
But the sixth characteristic may be the most important of them all:

Actually believes that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

The key phrase here are “actually believes.”

There are whole industries out there preaching the gospel of preventative law – and almost all of us do it in some form or another – preach that is. But at the end of the day, it is unfortunately easier to get your number crunchers and C-suite people to pony up for actual litigation than it is to budget a smaller number of dollars to teach and train to avoid “theoretical” risks (the ounce of prevention).

I’ve never totally understood this other than to apply the old maxim that there are no atheists in foxholes; i.e., it’s easy to put off spending on prevention when there’s no complaint sitting on the CEO’s desk.

But of course an ounce of prevention really is cheaper than a pound of cure. A GC who believes in the practice of preventative law and is willing to fight for the dollars to actually do it is going to serve your company’s best interests in the long run.

This is why none of my six characteristics involve being a great litigator – not that a GC can’t or shouldn’t be a great litigator – but that can’t be the focus. 

You cannot be an atheist and a true believer at the same time...

That’s why the great GC already has already got religion. A little revival tent, a little legal philosophy and a ton of commonsense to bring the sheep into the fold.  She's willing to go door to door, department by department, budget by budget, VP by VP - ringing doorbells and preaching the gospel to those atheist number crunchers on the fifth floor and the godless CEO on executive row.

 So go ahead and ask.  This is one question on religious belief that doesn't violate Title VII!

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

1 comment:

  1. Yes, your point is well taken. When I was primarily a commercial attorney, I always said that I was the ounce of protection and the litigation attorneys down the hall were the ton of cure. Eventually the point does sink in.

    You've indentified one of the key dilemmas of in-house practice, how to prove the value of risks avoided. As Nassim Taleb writes in The Black Swan, "everyone knows that you need more prevention than treatment, but few reward acts of prevention."

    In any case, thanks for writing. I enjoy your blog.

    -Jon W. Olson
    GC, Blackbaud, Inc.