Over the last few decades, law firms have becoming increasingly large and complex organizations, spanning dozens of offices across multiple jurisdictions with thousands of employees. Yet, until relatively recently, law firms typically did not have a formal “general counsel” position. A recent article, “The Lawyers’ Lawyer: The Emergence of the Law Firm General Counsel,” published by the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession in their digital magazine, The Practice, explores the development of this increasingly important role. For law firms, the development of their in-house function has meant better care of their own risk, compliance, and ethical affairs. This article also traces how law firm general counsel are increasingly entering the senior management of their firms. This article first appeared in a 2019 issue, “In-House Ethics, “of The Practice. Professor David B. Wilkins, coauthor of a report central to this article, chairs Harvard Law School Executive Education’s Leadership in Corporate Counsel and Leadership in Law Firms programs.


The Center on the Legal Profession is a research organization dedicated to providing a richer understanding of the rapidly changing global legal profession. The concepts contained in the article—concepts based on the Center’s ongoing research into the in-house counsel movement and the increasingly important role general counsel play, both within their organizations and in relation to the legal profession, the market, and the state—are central to HLS Executive Education’s leadership programs. Learn more about the 2020 programs - https://execed.law.harvard.edu/programs/.