This is a major new project to research and engage in-house lawyers on the role of the General Counsel in the context of Ethical Leadership.
The project is led by Professor Richard Moorhead, Professor Stephen Mayson of UCL Centre for Ethics and Law (CELs), Paul Gilbert of LBC Wise Counsel and Steven Vaughan of the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER) is playing a key role in the research element of the project.
There is growing evidence (Times Newspapers, GM etc), research (e.g. CELs Legal Risk Study) and some anecdotal commentary to suggest that the role of GC is under increasing pressure and that the professional ethical boundaries are not as elegantly drawn as may be helpful for our increasingly sophisticated world of work.
It seems fair to assume that no one relishes more regulation, and more regulation of in-house lawyers/lawyers may be inappropriate anyway, but it is interesting to note that there are no qualifications needed to be a General Counsel, no commonly accepted guiding principles for the role and no requirements on business to create an environment in which it is appropriate to employ in-house lawyers.
In addition the types of GC role vary dramatically from strategic executive consigliere to transactional specialist. As a result the expectations of business of the GC role vary widely as well.
We are aware (for example Barclays, SCB and others) that Courts, Inquiries, Prosecutors and some Regulators are showing more interest in how and why in-house lawyers have advised their businesses.
This initiative therefore is not a call for new or more regulation. It is however a call for in-house lawyers to come together (sometimes with other stakeholders) to debate the role of the General Counsel, its ethical framework and then to suggest the principles that could guide the role. We are certain that in-house lawyers know best what the tough issues are and how they manage them. This is therefore a facilitated forum for debate, a place to offer and share insight, to share resources and help shape the needs of the General Counsel as well as serving the interests of the profession and of business.