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This Article examines the structural evolution of the "firm counsel" position from a volunteer, part-time position filled by an existing partner to a specialized, often full-time position increasingly filled by career in-house counsel. Based on focus groups and interviews with firm counsel, as well as participant observation at meetings and conferences aimed at firm counsel, I examine how the professionalization of the firm counsel position affects: (1) the definition of the firm as the client; (2) the authority of firm counsel with partners; and (3) firm counsels' professional commitments and attitudes about ethical rules.

I find that, from a regulatory standpoint, the professionalization of firm counsel is a positive development. The increasing formalization and specialization of the firm counsel position has. helped to clarify the identity of the firm as a client without compromising the authority or commitment of lawyers who serve in that role. Although "professional" firm counsel-that is, full-time firm counsel and those appointed from outside the firm-tend to draw on different sources of authority than part-time firm counsel who "grew up" in the firm, most respondents report that their role is expanding and that they have sufficient authority to be effective. I argue that professional networks among firm counsel are likely to play a critical role in defining the future standards for law firm regulation and urge legal ethics scholars to collaborate with firm counsel in promoting the vibrancy of such networks.


Reposted with permission from HeinOnline and North Carolina Law Review.

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