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Restoring corporate trust: What it means for the General Counsel

Restoring corporate trust: role of General Counsel

Today’s organisations are facing a more complex regulatory environment, changing demands from shareholders and a razor sharp focus on trust, integrity and culture. We look at the role of the General Counsel in this environment.

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KPMG Forensic works with General Counsels across the country helping them respond to the most challenging bribery, fraud, anti-corruption and commercial disputes, so we took the opportunity to go straight to the source.

The role of the General Counsel is becoming more complex and more is being asked of those who perform it.

In our research, we found there was broad endorsement that in order to succeed, the General Counsel needs a seat at the executive table with direct reporting to the CEO. General Counsels were of the view that only with this access can they provide the strategic, commercial advice and the stewardship that is being asked of them.

KPMG sincerely thanks the Australian General Counsels who were very generous with their time and candid in their responses and we are delighted to have helped frame such an important discussion.

Throughout 2019, detailed interviews were undertaken with more than 25 Australian leading General Counsels from ASX 100 companies, not for profit organisations and the country’s largest privately held companies. We also drew on research undertaken by KPMG Globally with leading General Counsels.

Key findings

The results are not as predictable as might be expected:

  1. Broader executive roles for the General Counsel or stick to your knitting?
    Death to legal professional privilege or the only way to provide commercially relevant advice; Australia’s General Counsel Community appears divided.
  2. Does the Corporate Governance hat fit?
    It appears this is one of the hats that seems to fit, taking on increased responsibility for corporate governance, driving the trust agenda and ensuring the organisation consistently ‘gets it right’ is being embraced by the General Counsel.
  3. Company Secretary or not to Company Secretary? That is the question
    Somewhat surprisingly, whether the General Counsel should be the Company Secretary appears to have divided Australian General Counsels evenly. Some of Australia’s leading General Counsels pointed to irreconcilable conflicts, role confusion and workload to support a view that it wasn’t the right fit. Whilst others equally as passionately pointed to synergies, board access and ‘best person for the role’ to explain the merits of the role combination.
  4. Regulations and Regulators bringing the General Counsel to the table
    Increasing complexity in regulation and more focus on how organisations respond to regulators is driving companies to ensure their General Counsel has a seat at the executive table.
  5. Moral compass or corporate cop out?
    The General Counsel is uniquely equipped to provide the moral conscience for their organisation, however, there are mixed views as to whether they should.

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