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Keeping conscience

Keeping conscience

If in-house lawyers are truly going to be the "keepers of the corporate conscience", as they are increasingly regarded, how can they properly and appropriately fulfill that role? Peter Turner writes

If in-house lawyers are truly going to be the "keepers of the corporate conscience", as they are increasingly regarded, how can they properly and appropriately fulfill that role? Peter Turner writes

RECENT developments in the international scene constitute another stark reminder of the pitfalls of doing business internationally and the importance of having the right people and processes in place.

In-house lawyers are increasing regarded by both their employer corporations - and by our corporate regulators - as the “keepers of the corporate conscience”, a role which many General Counsel quite naturally accept. It seems to fit easily alongside their daily legal, compliance and corporate governance roles and on its face, appears quite benign.

But wearing “two hats” has risks. Like all legal practitioners, in-house lawyers are first and foremost officers of the court and must uphold the law and serve the community in the administration of justice. On the other hand, as employees, in-house counsel are expected to assist the corporation to achieve its commercial goals. But because they are seen as “gatekeepers” it is increasingly assumed that in-house lawyers carry at least shared responsibility for ensuring that ethical standards and principles of justice are upheld.

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A recent survey by Deloitte found that 76 per cent of corporate counsel think that they have greater influence in the business environment while 63% hold positions other than legal counsel. Ergo: today’s in-house lawyers are more responsible - and more vulnerable - and must therefore be increasingly vigilant about knowing, and reporting, what is going on around them.
A recent IBA Corporate Counsel Forum discussed the evolving role of corporate counsel in the Asian region. 

It concluded that “with exposure beyond the confines of its home jurisdiction, the company and its shareholders, executives and management become exposed to complex deal structuring, laws, regulations, public policy, international voluntary initiatives, media dynamics and industry best practice of alien jurisdictions. There are (therefore) opportunities for ... corporate counsel to... lead, from a senior position within the corporation, the translation of international best practices for corporate governance, ethical business and anti-corruption and bribery policies into the language of their own business processes both domestically and internationally.”
 
These are opportunities that in-house counsel cannot afford to overlook.

Keeping conscience
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