David Wilkins (Harvard Law School) Keynote Address: “Hiring Teams, Firms, and Lawyers: Evidence of the Evolving
Relationships in the Corporate Legal Market.”
Session Presentation: “Is the In-house Counsel Movement Going Global? Assessing the Role of Internal Counsel in Emerging Economies”
In 1989, the American legal Scholar Robert Eli Rosen wrote an influential article chronically the dramatic growth in the size, prestige, and influence of internal legal counsel in large US corporations. In less than 20 years, these lawyers had gone from a position of marginality and subservience - think "house counsel," as in "house pet" - to being "General Counsel," playing a pivotal role in both defining and serving the legal needs of their powerful corporate clients. As Rosen noted, this "in-house counsel movement" - a movement in which internal lawyers themselves played a key role in furthering their growing economic power and professional standing - was in turn producing an important transformation in the structure, norms, and practices of the bar as a whole. In the more than two decades since Rosen's article, the power and prestige of in-house lawyers in the US has only continued to grow. Indeed, many top internal lawyers have traded in the legal sounding title of "general counsel" for the more corporate sobriquet Chief Legal Officer or CLO in order to clearly signal that they are a part of the "C" suite of top executive officers in the company.
Although the in-house counsel movement has therefore been remarkably successful in the US, until quite recently the status of internal lawyers in most other jurisdictions remained similar to what it had been in the US during the 1960s. Since the turn of the twenty first century, however, there are a number of signs that the in-house counsel movement has come to the UK and Western Europe. Given these trends, it is worth asking whether even the degree of power and prestige achieved by GCs in Europe is likely to spread to other important emerging economies in the coming years.
This paper, which is part of a larger research project that I help to coordinate on Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies (or GLEE as we like to call it), begins to answer this question by identifying the processes of globalization - economic globalization, globalization of knowledge, and globalization of governance - that are likely to foster the development of an in-house counsel movement in emerging economies such as India, China, and Brazil. Although none of these forces guarantee that emerging economies will develop sophisticated in-house capacity, let alone that the GCs they do produce will look like their US counterparts, the processes of globalization already appear to be changing the role and function of in-house lawyers in all of these countries. Specifically, the paper identifies five related aspects of the structure and work of internal counsel - size, credentials, and demographics; relationship with outside counsel; professional standing and mobilization; internal standing, mobility, and responsibilities; and participation in national and international policy, and commitment to the "public interest" - that will provide important clues about the extent to which the in-house counsel movement is indeed reshaping the role of internal counsel - and the overall market for legal services - in these important new economies.