The Effective In-House Lawyer, Knowing How to Say No to a Client
My colleague Dan DiLucchio recently published an article in the June 2006 issue of Corporate Counsel, an American Lawyer Media publication, about the "go-to" in-house lawyer - a lawyer with whom corporate business executives want to work, to whom they turn with confidence and who stands out from the rest, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important attribute of such lawyers is how well they facilitate the business objectives of the clients they serve.
Lawyers, of course, often have to tell clients, "No, you can't do that." Failing to tell clients "no" when that is necessary can obviously lead to major problems, as we saw at Enron and other companies where lawyers felt strong pressure to do what clients wanted and the failure to rein in clients lead to bankruptcy, civil litigation, criminal charges and long prison sentences for some of the executives. Effective in-house lawyers know how to pass along this bad news in such a way that clients understand why the advice is given. That effectiveness, however, is only as good as the lawyer's ability to find creative alternatives to facilitate the client's business objectives when the initial suggestion is not legally permissible or does not comport with the amount of risk the company wants to assume.
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