general counsel, take 2

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Fri Feb 6 14:57:53 UTC 2004

In a message dated Wed, 4 Feb 2004 16:35:10 -0500,  Catherine Aman
<caman at AMLAW.COM> writes

>  I am writing an article
>  touching on the history of the in-house legal department and am curious to
>  know of any early citations for the title "general counsel." I know that
>  lawyers in these jobs were at one time (mid-20th c.) referred to as "kept
>  women" because they were (1) on company payrolls, and (2) their skills were
>  not generally admired among corporate lawyers in law firms. I suspect that
>  the word "general" in the job title indicates that these lawyers were
>  generalists, weighing in on labor and employment issues, real estate
>  matters, contracts, litigation, &tc

I suspect that "general counsel" comes from the same origin as "general
manager", who is the manager in charge of ALL operations in a given company, or
site, or whatever, with all other "managers" at that location having more
specialized duties.  cf a professional baseball team, which has one "general manager"
who hires and trades and subordinate to him a singular "manager" who directs
the team on the field.

Hence a general counsel handles, or supervises, all the legal work of the
firm, with, as workload demands, other counsels or just plain lawyers handling
individual cases.
Compare "Attorney-General", or the simiolar Postmaster-General, or that
military term "Sergeant-Major General".

Objection:  in corporate law there is such a thing as a "general partner" in
which "general" does not mean "high-level universal scope" but rather
specifies the partner's exposure to liability.


a note on terminology:  a professional baseball team takes orders on the
fileld from a "manager" who is assisted by "coaches" (although "coach" has the
second meaning of "anybody who is assigned to the first- and third-base coaching
boxes"---THE manager has the option of choosing himself to be A coach.). In
basketball, however, the person directing the team is "the coach" and "the
manager" is the person in charge of supplying clean towels.

       - Jim Landau

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