At an event associated with the chief legal officer leadership forum, former Verizon Wireless general counsel Steven Zipperman addressed a session in New York, summarizing the general themes of the conference. Zipperstein began with an anecdote about former president G.H.W Bush as he was falling in the polls to Governor Bill Clinton, which was meant to illustrate the importance of both effective communication and the appreciation of talent. President Bush, according to Zipperstein , thought that his plummeting numbers were due to his being surrounded by B level people, as opposed to A level people. Zipperstein thought that this anecdote was of particular importance to his audience because he felt that there was a fundamental shift occurring in the corporate legal world from law firms to in-house counsel. As companies are beginning to hire less firms and more individual specialists, it is important to keep an eye out at all times for A level individuals who can incorporate their skills into a particular company. By the same token, however, the bulking up of internal legal departments can necessitate the retention of outside counsel to objectively investigate and oversee operations. This is what Zipperman calls the first dichotomy of the changing legal environment.
The second great shift occurring in the industry, according to Zipperstein, is that the roles of in house counsels themselves have been constantly evolving for some time: “We’re not just lawyers; we’re strategic business partners. We’re not just giving legal advice; we’re giving business advice. We’re supervising not just the legal department, but the M&A group and the business affairs group, as in the case of our colleague from Discover.”
Despite certain privilege issues that can arise, according to Zipperstein, this new environment in which in house counsels find themselves is beneficial for all parties involved, since now lawyers are viewed as being part of the corporate team, and general counsels are members of executive boards.
Another field that has greatly impacted the legal sector of corporations is globalization. With the massive amount of information available at a moment’s notice across international borders, the line between legal statutes in different countries is blurring. Now U.S. based lawyers have to contend with statutes and legal restrictions in the markets in which they are engaged, as well as their home markets. Though the technological advancements that have led to globalization and the opening of new and varied markets, Zipperstein was careful to mention that technology can just as easily be a lawyer or an executive’s worst enemy. One of the over-arching implications of big data and information retrieval technology is that anything a lawyer says on his email or cell phone is automatically on record.