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Just as many companies have been trying to cut their outside counsel roster, they may soon need to hire more. A new Securities and Exchange Commission rule may lead audit committees to hire independent counsel of their own. The regulation, required by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, aims to make audit committees more independent from management and more accountable on financial matters. Among other things, the rule would make audit committee members solely responsible for hiring and firing auditors. But it would also require public companies to pay for outside counsel retained by their audit committees. (At press time the SEC was expected to vote on the rule this month. It will go into effect by the end of April if adopted.) Securities lawyers expect many audit committees to seek counsel, given their new responsibilities. And, to protect its independence, each committee will be compelled to turn to a firm that doesn’t represent the company as a whole. A few firms are already scrambling to tap the potential revenue stream. “We’re cognizant that this is a good source of business,” says Clifford Neimeth, a New York — based partner with Greenberg Traurig. “Frankly, it’s an opportunity to be introduced to boards.” — Otis Bilodeau

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