The role of general counsel is continually expanding to encompass ever broader ranges of business and legal functions. General counsels must work closely with executives, as well as policy experts and political experts within the corporation. In today’s atmosphere of uncertainty and unrest, they must frequently handle crisis situations and create forward-looking strategies to anticipate new global developments.
In addition, general counsels are changing positions and transferring to new companies at a faster pace than ever before. As companies restructure and reorganize after a crisis situation, they frequently bring new personnel on board to provide new approaches.
General Counsel Updates
Yahoo, Inc. has announced that Arthur Chong has been named general counsel and secretary for the company. This announcement came less than two weeks after the previous Yahoo general counsel, Ronald Bell, resigned from his position. Bell’s resignation occurred in the wake of an independent investigation into a massive data breach at the company in 2014. The investigation concluded that Yahoo’s legal team did not sufficiently investigate the breach.
Chong had previously served as an outside legal adviser to Yahoo from October 2016 to March 2017. He began advising the Sunnyvale, California-based company shortly after their first data breach was revealed.
Wells Fargo & Company recently named Allen Parker to serve as general counsel. He will be succeeding James Strother, who has been serving the company for 30 years. The third-largest U.S. lender is looking to restore its reputation following a scandal involving fake accounts that affected millions of customers.
The company reached a $190 million settlement last September and also parted ways with chief executive John Stumpf in October. Parker will work with Wells Fargo’s operating committee and will be based in San Francisco.
Emma Slatter has joined Visa Europe to serve as general counsel. She will be replacing Niamh Grogan and joining executive director of commercial law Prini Pithouse. Slatter previously served as U.K. regional general counsel for Deutsche Bank and later as global head of strategy for the bank. She was influential in helping to resolve the bank’s legal problems. Deutsche Bank is in the process of carrying out a review of its external legal panel, which is conducted every two years.
American International Group, Inc. (AIG) has selected Rose Marie Glazer to serve as the company’s vice president, deputy general counsel, and corporate secretary. She will work closely with the legal, compliance, and regulatory team to represent stakeholder interests. Ms. Glazer previously served as General Counsel for Siemens Corporation since 2012. She will be succeeding AIG’s Jeffrey Welikson, who is retiring.
Issues for General Counsels
As the role of the general counsel continues to expand, they must continually develop a deep understanding of broad subjects such as:
- Societal trends
- Modern communication and technology
- Citizenship and transnational migration
They must also be cognizant of major global issues that can threaten the health of an organization, and help formulate policy responses to them. These include issues such as:
- Aging and trans-generational issues
General Counsels and Cybersecurity Concerns
In particular, one of the main concerns facing general counsels today is that of cybersecurity. Boards are inquiring more and more about their fiduciary responsibilities with regards to company cybersecurity; general counsels therefore need to be equipped to answer such questions.
Ultimately, if there is a cybersecurity breach situation in a company, it is very likely that litigation will follow. The general counsel’s office will need to handle such claims; therefore it is best if the general counsel is involved in cybersecurity issues from the outset of their involvement with a company. General counsel should have strong communications with key leadership figures of the company well in advance of a breach. They should also have a crisis plan in place to ensure that a timely response is issued.
Besides general cyber breach issues, general and in-house counsel should also be prepared for cyberattacks aimed directly at them. For instance, some newer security attacks involve scammers posing as officials from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in order to obtain privileged information from companies.
Lastly, digital disruption is becoming a main concern for nearly all companies, and general counsels also need to be at the heart of company policies regarding digital technology.
General counsels are an integral aspect of corporate operations and governance. Their role continues to evolve as companies face new challenges in light of global economic developments and corresponding shifts in law and policy. If you have any questions regarding corporate governance issues, contact us today at Kessler Topaz. Our team is dedicated to helping our clients implement effective and creative governance strategies in diverse areas.