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This is the latest in a series of columns from attorneys at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, examining the intersections of the political and legal worlds in the run-up to Election Day 2012. Today’s general counsel—straddling a complex global intersection of law, politics, policy, and business—has an imperative opportunity to make a difference in the life cycle of a public company. And the upcoming elections are magnifying that opportunity significantly. General counsel have a lot on their minds as the 2012 U.S. presidential election looms. They’re focusing on political and policy developments in other key geographies as well, especially in the E.U. and China. The U.S. election is shaping up to be a historic referendum on policy-based approaches to growing the economy and creating jobs—calibrating the risk appetite of the American people who have lost trust in political and business leadership and the economic fairness of their lives. As raw and emotional political power clashes for control of the White House and Congress, much hangs in the balance for corporate America—and on the leadership mantle of the general counsel. Indeed, today’s general counsel straddles a global, complex, and high-speed intersection of law, business, politics, and policy—an intersection where the role of the general counsel has been pressured, expanded, and elevated. Pundits rightly chronicle the evolving roles and responsibilities of the general counsel and the new reality of corporate governance in which they operate. Beginning with the accounting scandals that prompted Sarbanes-Oxley, and continuing through to the catastrophic leadership failures that prompted Dodd-Frank, the balance of power among government regulators, shareholders, boards of directors, and management has changed and remains unsettled. As the balance of power has shifted, the positions of CEO and CFO have become more pressured and less tenured. Boards struggle with balancing investor pressures for short-term results against their overarching responsibility for long-term success. Tracking political trends has become a core work stream in corporate strategy development. No surprise, then, that the premium has risen for general counsel with lighthouse leadership skills, business and political acumen, strategic thinking aptitude—and crisis management courage. More and more, whether facing the big deal or the big problem, the general counsel is the admiral of the fleet—beginning, of course, with legal strategy, but also integrating corporate development, international policy and public affairs, stakeholder relations, and corporate culture and reputation. In short, it falls, in large measure, to the general counsel to lead the integrated legal, business, and political solutions to the big problems and the accomplishment of big opportunities. For example:

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