Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The True Corporate Lawyer

I've given this topic a lot of thought: what is the role of the lawyer in business? Where exactly is the nexus between business and the law? At what point is Corporate Counsel acting as CLO and at what point is he acting as CFO? It's a topic rife with questions of ethics, psychology, politics and economics. It's also a topic that partially steers the legal profession.

It seems like as soon as law students get settled, we start to wonder about working on Bay Street and fitting into corporate culture. We can't help it. Orientation is full of free (and cheap) goodies branded with the logos of competing Bay Street firms. After a couple months, a Career Service Officer joins our class to explain the OCI process - in great detail - so we don't miss any deadlines. We can attend resume sessions and mock interviews to give us the best chance of "success". For law schools, it makes practical long-term sense. Only wealthy alumni can give large donations.

The buzz around OCIs is fueled by peer pressure, competition, and the rush of adrenaline. Even if you're not interested in the OCI process prior to law school, it's hard not to get sucked in. The money is enticing. In some ways it is literally the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And, if you have any doubts, you can do it for a year just for the experience. The prestige of having worked at a "seven sisters" firm opens doors.

Some students dismiss the idea quickly and courageously, without turning back. Others reluctantly part with the notion after a mountain of rejection letters and sometimes tears. Then there are the "successful" students who reluctantly sign on the dotted line wondering the truth of the adage, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house". Finally, there are those who whole-heartedly and unquestionably embrace to role of The True Corporate Lawyer.

But what is the role of The True Corporate Lawyer? Where do lawyers fit within corporations anyhow? Back in 1984, Paul M. Moore provided one answer: "corporate lawyers are the guys who provide the grease that keeps the companies carrying on business." (Lawyers by Jack Batten at 71) Is this still the case?

I'm going to end on that note. I'll pick up my thoughts on another day. By the way, good luck to all the students attending second interviews. Here's a bit of advice from John A. Tory:

A person charged with a criminal offence doesn't have to like his lawyer. He just wants somebody who's going to do something to get him off. But in corporate law there's so much give and take, back and forth, exchange of ideas, intimacy, and so on, that lawyers and clients have to get along. That's what I looked for in students and juniors, all-round types who showed the potential to hit it off with company presidents and corporate executives.
Perhaps, then, the Chinese at Xiamen University have the right idea.


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