General counsel launches ethics oath for in-house leaders

Sep 11, 2020
Pledge said to work globally and is comparable to Hippocratic Oath

The general counsel of a UK-based digital marketing communications company has created a professional oath he hopes will be taken by senior in-house legal and compliance officials around the world.

The general counsel oath is analogous to the Hippocratic Oath doctors take at the beginning of their career and is suggested for existing and incoming general counsel or individuals in roles such as chief legal officer, legal director, chief compliance officer or chief ethics officer. It can be used globally, according to its author Simon Zinger.

Zinger is group general counsel with Dentsu Aegis Network and leads the company’s global legal team including the ethics & compliance and data-protection compliance teams. Dentsu Aegis Network is a subsidiary of Japanese advertising and public relations firm Dentsu Group. Zinger is qualified to practice law in the US and the UK and has previously worked as assistant general counsel at Vivendi in Paris and in private practice with Baker McKenzie in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He notes on a website promoting the general counsel oath that the Hippocratic Oath reminds doctors to see the patient rather than the illness, use their medical knowledge and skills to avoid harm and injustice, and recognize that the value placed on medical knowledge creates an obligation to treat all patients with care and compassion.

But Zinger adds that other than oaths taken when lawyers become bar members or are admitted to practice before courts, there is no universal oath setting a commitment to personal excellence, professional behavior and positive impact on society.

‘Perhaps it is time for in-house lawyers to adopt a different kind of oath – a commitment by general counsel, anywhere in the world, to use our collective power, influence and knowledge to improve access to justice, promote equality and anti-racism, eliminate institutional bias and support diversity, equity and inclusion within our teams and throughout our organizations,’ Zinger writes.

His aim is for the general counsel oath to create better work experience for professionals, promote more constructive relationships with people they encounter, help bring the legal and compliance community together for a common purpose and help create a more equitable society.

The text of the oath includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion by the general counsel taking it – an issue that a number of investors are pressing companies to take more seriously in the wake of widespread protests over the deaths of African Americans at the hands of US police officers and the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people of color.

For example, State Street Global Advisors global chief investment officer Richard Lacaille recently wrote to board chairs informing them that, starting in 2021, the asset manager will ask portfolio companies to explain their risks, goals and strategy relating to racial and ethnic diversity and to make relevant disclosures to shareholders.

In the new oath, general counsel pledge to be ‘alert to acts of prejudice, discrimination, exclusion or micro-aggression, whether intentional or unintentional, that may be directed toward my team or against others in my organization, [to] speak out against such behaviors and [to] encourage and expect my team to do the same.’

Among other things, those taking the oath would promise to ‘consider and provide work, promotion and internship opportunities to candidates with diverse backgrounds, looking beyond traditional or societal norms for schooling, life experience or professional achievement.’

The oath also includes commitments to professional responsibility, ethics and pro bono work for internal clients, and ‘kind, honest, open-minded, humble, caring and supportive’ personal behavior.

For example:

  • ‘I will foster a team that interacts with internal clients with professionalism and respect and provides legal and compliance services to the best of the team’s abilities’
  • ‘I will not hesitate to speak up on commercial and strategic matters that impact my organization and will support initiatives that create and foster a positive and collaborative company culture’
  • ‘I will raise awareness and propose solutions where I see the need for improvement in areas of compliance and risk and will flag and escalate any concerns in the most appropriate manner’
  • ‘I will advocate for and safeguard the best interests of my organization, but will interact with external parties, even adversaries, with civility and professional courtesy’
  • ‘I will be a role model for others in both my personal and professional capacities’
  • ‘I recognize that my skills and leadership position are privileges and I will use them to advance the well-being of the people, organizations and communities with which I interact.’
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