Panelists: Build Relationships, Add Value as General Counsel

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By Susan Bokermann

March 17 — General counsel jobs are highly sought-after positions, but “as the pyramid narrows, those roles get harder and harder to get,” said Thomas M. Moriarty, executive vice president and general counsel of CVS Caremark.

“Diversity of experience is one of the key guiding points to this role,” he said during a March 13 panel at Georgetown Law’s Corporate Counsel Institute.

Moriarty and others discussed ways that GCs can succeed once they attain their roles, such as building relationships with company leaders and preparing for succession.

Relationship With CEO

The panelists agreed that the general counsel’s relationship with the chief executive officer is crucial. “The CEO is a very lonely job,” said Cathy C. Anderson, general counsel at True Value Co., so reaching out to the CEO as a business partner is important.

“Most CEOs are early risers,” Moriarty said, advising that GCs arrive early to get a cup of coffee with him or her and make use of the productive time when fewer people may be in the office.

In addition to fostering a good relationship with the CEO, the panelists said that knowledge of the company's business is “hugely important” to succeed as a general counsel.

Ways to Add Value

“You have to be a good business partner” to bring value to the GC role, Anderson said, though that doesn’t always mean agreeing with the status quo.

“There’s going to come a time when you have to close the door and say ‘we just can’t do it,’” Moriarty said. Bringing value means being a “diplomat across the executive group.”

Leadership is also a large part of the GC role. “Being accountable” and “doing what you say you’re going to do” are some ways to show leadership, Anderson said. She added that sometimes GCs have to be able to “take action without 100 percent of the data.”

Moriarty agreed, saying GCs have to “give informed solutions” with the information they have.

Mark C. Darrell, senior vice president, chief compliance officer and general counsel of Laclede Group Inc., noted that learning “how to follow-up” to make sure things are getting done is another important way to add value as GC.

Succession Planning

The panelists also discussed how succession planning for their positions adds value to the company. “I feel, as an officer of the company, one of my duties is to be grooming a successor,” Anderson said.

Darrell agreed, saying he tries to give his department well-rounded exposure to prepare them to be his successor.

Moriarty added that he also tries to give certain people in his department exposure to the board of directors.

To contact the reporter on this story: Susan Bokermann in Washington at sbokermann@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan Tuck at rtuck@bna.com