I retired from Sabre Corporation in November 2014 as General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, and Chief Compliance Officer. It was a great ride but it became clear to me that I was ready to give something new a try. Shortly after I left Sabre I was speaking at a legal conference in Dallas and was chatting with a couple of the attendees after my presentation. They asked me a pretty simple question: What do you need to do to become general counsel? I thought about for a minute and then listed off several things that I had done and thought were important on my way up the legal department ladder beginning some 20+ years ago as a first-level in-house attorney at American Airlines. As I answered the question, I had a thought: Maybe I should be writing some of this stuff down! And that was the beginning of this blog where basically I just try to write down lessons learned (hard ones and easy ones) over my 20 years as in-house counsel.
It’s a nice spring Friday morning. You arrived at the office earlier than usual and are settling into your chair with a big cup of coffee. You are expecting a slow day and want to catch up on some legal articles and other administrative items and then hopefully leave early to get a head start on a peaceful weekend. Then the phone rings. It’s the CEO and she is very upset. Someone has posted very negative and untrue things about the company on a consumer complaint website and she wants you to do something about it. Now. Then your instant messenger box pops up. It’s the head of HR and she’s asking you to call her immediately because an employee has just tweeted something “really stupid” on the company’s Twitter account and it’s about to blow up in the media and she needs your advice ASAP. At the same time you glance at your email and see “Urgent – someone’s illegally using our trademarks!” in the subject line of an email from Bart in marketing. You put your coffee mug down, rub your face, and realize you are not going to be heading out early or catching up on any articles today.
While the early morning “perfect storm” scenario described above is unlikely to occur, things can go sideways very quickly when someone launches attacks on your company’s reputation and brand. This is especially true in these days of 24/7 media and the “Wild West” of the Internet and social media. One of the most important jobs in-house counsel has is to protect your company’s reputation and brand. Why? Because customers won’t buy from a company they don’t like, investors do not invest in companies that have bad reputations or cannot protect their brands, and employees do not want to work for a company they don’t feel good about. If it’s bad enough, a hit to the brand or reputation can cost the company multi-millions of dollars. This edition of Ten Things will discuss steps you can take now to prepare for and defend against attacks on your company’s brand and reputation.