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Now To Focus On Legal Risk Management...

Posted on April 5, 2015 at 7:10 PM

Easter Sunday and the UK is bathed in late evening sunshine....but here's a thought before you are lulled into any sense of complacency.

While a 24 hour news stream via social media delivers a steady array of potential concerns for listed companies around corporate governance and risk, one has remained pretty much unexplored: the role of in-house lawyers.

Now the UCL Centre for Ethics and Law intends to change that. It has just published its report Legal Risk: Definition, Management and Ethics as the first stage in its Ethical Leadership initiative for In-house lawyers.

Among its key findings: there was no shared sense of the correct approach to legal risk. (my emphasis)

"There is a clear divide between those who take a 'I know it when I see it' approach to legal risk and those who deliberately applied systems, foresight, thematic and strategic thinking around legal risk" it says.

And: "Those interviewees with the most developed systems seemed most likely to see cultural dimensions to legal risk, with some emphasising the need to be authentically committed to the spirit as well as the letter of the law as part of a business commitment to compliance, legality and business ethics."

I explored some thinking around such ideas in an opinion piece for the International Bar Association not long ago. And late last year, around combining the role of General Counsel (GC) and Company Secretary in a listed business.(If the links don't work, both are on my website under Boardroom/#CorpGov).

As UCL points out, there are relatively recent, serious conduct risk examples of allegations involving lawyers in and/or instructed by Standard Chartered Bank, the News of The World, Barclays, The Times newspaper, BNP Paribas and General Motors. Think hard, and you will find more.

"The role of the GC is increasingly under pressure. Their professional ethical boundaries are not as well drawn as may be necessary for the increasingly sophisticated world of in-house work" says Professor Richard Moorhead, Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law - and @richardmoorhead on Twitter. 

CEL's initiative is not a call for new or more regulation. "It is however a call for in-house lawyers to come together (with other stakeholders as appropriate) to debate the role of the GC, its ethical framework and then to suggest the principles that could guide the role" says Stephen Mayson, Honoroary Professor UCL Faculty of laws and one of the project's leaders. 

The aim is to produce a White Paper on the Ethical Context Of In-House Lawyers, in collaboration with the in-house community.

Get involved - and please help spread the word.

Categories: Leadership, Accountability, Ethics