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Butting Heads With the CEO? Stand Firm and Offer Other Options

Corporate Counsel

GCs can resign for ethical reasons, but it could be avoided by becoming intimately familiar with the business and the level of risk the business is willing to take on, said some industry observers.

Tension can often arise between general counsel and CEOs, but it doesn’t have to be a job killer. Speaking generally, legal department veterans and industry observers say in-house leaders can avoid big problems with other executives by sticking to key guidelines, such as presenting options to the CEO and obtaining outside intelligence to support their points.


Cole Silver, the chief client officer at Blank Rome in Philadelphia, who previously served as general counsel of a variety of companies including Softgate Systems and Princeton eCom, said it is the job of the general counsel to be the moral backbone of the company. In times where the legal and ethical mission of the general counsel does not align with the CEO’s vision, it’s important to push back, he added.

Without naming the company, Silver said he stood up to the CEO in one instance and did not talk to the CEO for three months. However, after those three months, the CEO was grateful for stopping the initiative that caused the initial dispute.

Silver added: “It goes to show that business people that don’t understand and know the law have to be educated to protect themselves.”


Speaking more to the business and to the revenue side of an operation can also help alleviate tensions between a general counsel and CEO who disagree, Silver explained.

“The key is being able to explain to business people and the CEO that the legal, financial and reputational risk is greater than the reward of allowing the matter to proceed,” Silver explained.

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“Butting Heads With the CEO? Stand Firm and Offer Other Options,” by Dan Clark, was published in Corporate Counsel on June 24, 2021.