X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
There’s no such thing as a general counsel graduate school, but General Electric Co.’s 950-attorney law department comes close. Although GE has no formal directory of its legal “alumni,” at least four graduates now head law departments at Fortune 1000 companies. GE senior counsel for litigation Brackett Denniston could well become the fifth — perhaps at his alma mater. What makes General Electric such an excellent GC incubator? The answer seems to be a combination of hiring, training, corporate culture and the leadership of the conglomerate’s renowned general counsel Benjamin Heineman Jr. When then-CEO Jack Welch hired Heineman in 1987, he gave the lawyer free rein to build a world-class legal department. Heineman “was the first one to be able to go out and hire law firm partners to be general counsel of his operating companies,” says New York-based legal recruiter Meyer Haberman. Even for lower-ranking spots, Heineman recruits the best and the brightest — lawyers with resumes that bristle with Ivy League degrees, academic honors and topflight clerkships — and cherry-picks top practitioners in various specialty areas. “It’s almost criminal what he’s done to the in-house job market,” jokes Haberman. Then there’s the Heineman touch itself: “The law department is extremely well run,” says Sally King, chief operating officer at New York’s Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman and senior manager of legal administration at GE from 1991 to 1993. “The lawyers have a lot of autonomy and authority — it’s not a bureaucratic shop.” Nor is it an ivory tower. From the beginning, Heineman made sure his lawyers were included in business strategizing — not stuck in a legal backwater. “Ben Heineman created a culture where lawyers were valued and played a far more significant role in the business than they traditionally had,” says International Paper Co. general counsel and GE alum William Lytton. How did Heineman do it? Partly by having legal specialists — in 17 different areas — in-house, rather than farming out the high-level work to law firms. High-caliber brains command respect. Having Jack Welch on your side doesn’t hurt either. Another Heineman innovation: the Advanced Business Course for Lawyers, a five-day training program for top performers that was implemented two years ago. The course, taught by business school professors as well as GE’s own financial wizards, drills lawyers in the company’s way of doing business. Topics covered range from risk assessment methods to global economics. In-house training at GE, however, dates back further than the course for lawyers. Jeffrey Kindler, GC at Pfizer Inc., and former head of litigation at GE, actually likens working at GE to being in a graduate business program. “GE — both the company and the law department — is a great training ground for any manager,” adds King. “They demand the best, and you’re routinely working with very bright, smart people.” It’s an environment that has spawned at least two other top general counsel in addition to Kindler and IP’s Lytton: Maura Abeln Smith at Owens Corning, the Toledo, Ohio-based building-materials business, and Robert Heath at Briggs & Stratton Corp., a Wauwatosa, Wisc.-based engine manufacturer. Other high-profile “graduates” include Philip Allen Lacovara, now a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, who was GC at Morgan Stanley in the 1990s; Nancy Loeb, deputy GC at Honeywell International Inc.; and Theodore Boehm, an Indiana state supreme court justice who was general counsel of GE Aircraft Engines. GE alums take away not only invaluable training, but also a certain cachet. “When I was interviewing for jobs, the thing that people all thought was the most significant was my time at GE,” says Lytton. “You come away from it forever changed,” he says. You may also come away with “GC” attached to your name.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at customerc[email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.