As part of the 2010 chief legal officer leadership forum, Thomas M. McCoy of AMD was interviewed by Brian Martin of KLA-Tencor at a San Francisco session on the subject of business relationships in the legal sector. Specifically, the concern of the conversation was the idea of relationships between business professionals and the lawyers with whom they work. The first point that both the interviewer and interviewee took turns to mention was that lawyers, especially senior legal counsel who might more often be offered such a distinction, should never succumb to the temptation to think of themselves as business partners. Lawyers, McCoy said, should always remember that they are counselors to, rather than partners with, the business professionals at their firms. McCoy went on to illustrate his old-fashioned views regarding the law as a calling rather than a profession or a career. He ended up at his current firm, he said, after refusing their offer the first time. He had a reputation as someone who could be trusted to come in and root out central problems in the legal strategy of companies, and AMD had a central problem in its legal strategy. “So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll come in’ and the general counsel promptly quit in protest of my arrival on the scene; it sort of went from there. But for me, it has been an extraordinary blessing. Sixteen years is a long time to do anything. That’s a long day in the office. I thought I’d do it for four. The president of the company said you can’t do this for more than 10, you’ll burn out. He was right. I burned out long ago,” said McCoy. But to him, that burnout was something that could be worked through, and he has continued on.
One aspect of legal business practice that McCoy thought had been indispensable in his long-term success had been effective communication between members of the legal department and between the legal department and other departments. Especially in a situation like McCoy face4d coming into his current firm, he said that effective communication, as well as adherence to three rules he called “Tom’s Rules”: “Rule number one was: everything with integrity. No matter what, everything was with integrity. We’ll quit before we’ll do anything that we think lacks integrity and if we’re not willing to do that, then we’re not deserving of the calling. Two, everything in what I call the steeple of excellence, everybody’s got a gifting. Everybody has a capability of doing something as well as anybody in the world. Let’s figure out what our respective gifts are and let’s organize ourselves to marry the client in a way that optimizes that has us operating at that pinnacle of excellence. And the third thing was that no matter what happens, we don’t lose our sense of humor.”