Why “COVID-19 CEOs” should act on Paul Gilbert’s blog of yesterday, today

Yesterday, Paul Gilbert, CEO LBCWisecounsel, UK’s doyen of commentary and advice to and on in-house lawyers wrote an important blog which, I suspect will have been read by many lawyers but not so many “COVID-19 CEOs” – that is CEOs waking up this morning faced with the task of leading their organisations through an unprecedented global pandemic. 

Paul’s blog concerned a conversation he had last Friday “with a lawyer who told him such a gruelling story that I have not thought of anything else since.”

The lawyer spoke of “his loneliness when first fighting for what was right, but then resigning from a company in which he had discovered systemic fraud.”

So, another day another story of a in-house lawyer brutally forced out by “the business”. So what? Everyone knows this occurrence is commonplace, nay, “business as usual”. 

The “so what” for CEOs is Paul Gilbert’s analysis of the story:

“I will be writing to him this weekend to offer all the support I can. He is a lawyer of exceptional courage. A hero. He played his part flawlessly, made his contribution and he was not found wanting, but he has lost his job and feels alone. The company that employed him may write a different story and probably will. It will be a kind of history too, but not the truth. It is also possible that the lawyer’s story may never be written. His story may not inform a wider world. His story may be lost in time, but it is the truth and it will live with me forever.”

This reflection and the reaction to it on social media yesterday is noteworthy on three levels:

  • first that the pain this lawyer – and his family – has suffered will have been awake-at-night and off the scale and is commonplace
  • second the grim acknowledgement and acceptance that “his story may be lost in time”
  • and third the reaction on social media: hugely sympathetic to the lawyer but resigned to the reality of their plight. They’re probably right about that.

So, CEOs, this story may well be unfolding in your organisation this week. Indeed you may well be a CEO about to “shaft” a hapless lawyer. 

If you are, then don’t do it, if only from a perspective of self-preservation. 

It’s as mad as cutting the brake cable in your own car. And to remove a lawyer of honour during a pandemic is the organisational equivalent of taking off your mask on the Underground and snogging the nearest random passenger. 

You need your “hang-on-a-minute” lawyers, now more than ever. 

But if, as I suspect, you are amongst the majority of CEOs who haven’t a clue what all the fuss is about and are blissfully unaware that lawyers in-house and out, businesses and regulators have slept-walked for the last 30 years, and particularly since the 2008 Global Financial Crash, through a small but growing clamour for regulatory change in the context in which in-house lawyers operate, then listen up: you are sitting on a time bomb. Why?

The day will come when you will be lying awake at night trembling in fear, like this lawyer was, as you deal with a catastrophic “risk event” in your business, on your watch most likely accelerated by the pressures of pandemic and filled with deep regret that you didn’t create an independent environment in which your in-house lawyers could thrive and do their jobs. It will be too late.

Paul Gilbert gives you clear guidance on this:

“The frame we are given as lawyers by our ethical code is an extraordinary gift that empowers influence. It requires that I must act in a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice. I must act in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in the legal services I provide. That I will act with independence, with honesty, with integrity, in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion, and always in the best interests of each client.”

You can read his blog here: https://www.lbcwisecounsel.com/resources/articles/article/who-tells-your-story/#.XxVM3xNKhhE

But don’t just read it. Act on it, today.

Tick, tock.

Ciarán Fenton

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