04 January 2018

General counsel must take responsibility for company cultural issues

The lawyer who led the inquiry into Uber last year, former attorney general Eric Holder, says company lawyers need to become corporate watchdogs.

General counsel have a responsiblity to highlight cultural issues in their companies, according to former attorney general Eric Holder. Speaking at Recode Decode, he said that inhouse lawyers needed to take responsibility as watchdogs and bring inappropriate behaviours to the surface. He added that 'given the training that we have, the place that we are supposed to occupy in these entities, that we are the ones who should be responsible for, I think, more than maybe another body of people, the development of appropriate cultures. We are trained in the law, we’re supposed to know the way in which things are to be done. We know what the rules are supposed to be like. We should be, again, within the appropriate context, we should be the enforcers.' 

Empowered

Mr Holder last year led an inquiry into Uber’s workplace culture. Speaking at the event, alongside Uber's general counsel Tony West, he added: 'I think legal departments have to be empowered. They can’t be ignored. They also have to understand that there’s a responsibility, a particular responsibility I think that lawyers have in the context of an organisation, whether that’s in government or it’s in the private sector. It’s in the same way that the justice department occupies a special place within the executive branch of the United States’ government. We are the watchdogs.'

Management must listen

He also called on management to listen to lawyers. 'To the extent that we detect issues and problems, it is our responsibility not only as members of the corporation, but as lawyers, to bring to the attention of the appropriate people problems, issues. Not only with regard to specific people and specific incidents, but also with regard to culture. To the extent that we identify cultural issues that are having a negative impact on the entities that we are a part of, we have the responsibility of surfacing those things. But it is also the responsibility of management to listen to those lawyers. It shouldn’t be difficult for lawyers to bring to the attention of management those concerns. You shouldn’t be penalised, you shouldn’t be seen as a problem if you are raising those issues.'