James Lovett, Corporate Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary at Covance, discussed how today's general counsel has become the "go-to counselor for the CEO" during his presentation at the 2015 Chief Legal Officer Leadership Forum in New York on Feb. 19. In his presentation, "The Role of the General Counsel in the Boardroom," Lovett noted that today's general counsel must be effective in the boardroom to help an organization overcome legal challenges.
According to Lovett, a general counsel needs to look beyond being a lawyer. Instead, Lovett pointed out that a general counsel needs technical competence and emotional intelligence to succeed in the boardroom. Lovett also said that a general counsel should understand business strategy and act as a legal compass for his or her organization: "You always hear our legal duty is to the corporation, as a corporation. I think it’s actually a practical guideline here. If we’re very clear with everybody, look, I’m here for the company. I’m not the CEO’s person, I’m not the board’s person, although the board’s probably the highest representation of it, even though it’s an abstract concept."
Preventing risk is a major challenge for today's general counsel, Lovett said. However, a general counsel that helps his or her organization develop a long-term strategy can ensure that it is prepared for any changes, including CEO succession: "It’s important that the company have a plan, that they be thoughtful about it, that they be identifying people who are potential new successors and that there be a plan to develop them."