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Elizabeth Stairs is stressed. As the general counsel of Honeywell Chemicals, a $3 billion subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., Stairs said she has never been busier. She guides the company through complex business decisions, oversees myriad litigations and has the final word on ensuring that Honeywell Chemicals stays Sarbanes-Oxley compliant. “There’s a lot to do,” she said. “There are a lot of times when you’re so focused on getting business matters done that you wonder if something has slipped across your desk that’s going to get you in trouble. After all, these days lawyers are targets.” Other general counsel can relate to Stairs’ anxiety, according to a 2004 quality of life survey, conducted by Corporate Counsel, a sister publication of The National Law Journal. And with good reason. Almost half of the 405 respondents who identified themselves as GCs feel that the corporate scandals of the last few years, and the trials of GCs such as Tyco International Ltd.’s Mark Belnick (acquitted in July on charges of grand larceny and securities fraud) and Rite Aid Corp.’s Franklin Brown (convicted in October 2003 for conspiracy, obstruction, lying to federal regulators and witness tampering), have sullied the perception of the nation’s general counsel within the legal profession at large. (Slightly less-43%-of the non-GCs gave the same answer.) What’s more, the folks at the top are putting in longer hours than their underlings. In follow-up interviews, they attributed those hours to the increased scrutiny from regulators, board members and shareholders. A contradiction The survey found a contradiction in this year’s responses. Despite some anxiety about how they are viewed, the 1,139 in-house lawyers who responded to the survey say that life is pretty good in corporate legal departments. For instance, almost two-thirds of all respondents-both GCs and subordinates-said they were “very proud of being an in-house lawyer.” But when asked whether the recent corporate scandals have “tarnished the legal community’s image of Fortune 500 general counsel,” 49% of our GC respondents and 43% of the rank-and-file answered yes. Of those groups, 64% and 60%, respectively, said that general counsel are viewed by the legal community as “more willing to cut corners for personal gain.” And close to 50% of both groups responded that general counsel are perceived by the legal community as “being kept out of the loop” when it comes to critical business-side decision-making.

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