A few words on why I think that this initiative is important:
Many people are familiar with the Hippocratic Oath that doctors may take at the start of their career. The Hippocratic Oath reminds a physician to see the patient – not the illness; to use medical knowledge and skills to avoid harm and injustice; and to recognize the value of medical knowledge in creating a special place in society for doctors, and thus an obligation to treat all patients with care and compassion.
Lawyers and compliance professionals will normally appreciate that their work is underpinned by ideals of fairness, justice and professional responsibility. These behaviours are typically guided by licensing requirements, professional codes, and bodies who oversee bar membership. While these elements provide some consistency to guide professional behaviour, there is disparity in how lawyers and compliance professionals serve clients, work with colleagues, approach adversaries, build teams or hire candidates. This is normal as we are individuals of different backgrounds, life experiences, belief systems, skills, and motivations.
Similarly, when it comes to oaths, aside from oaths taken upon bar membership or admission to practice before courts, there is no universal oath to establish a commitment towards a combination of personal excellence, professional behaviour, and positive societal impact.
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: set a standard for personal and professional behaviour; improve access to justice; promote antiracism; eliminate institutional bias; and support diversity, equity and inclusion within our teams and throughout our organizations.
My ambition is that adherence to the General Counsel Oath will provide General Counsel with a path that leads to positive work experiences, more constructive professional relationships, and a sense of common purpose with other in-house counsel and compliance professionals. The General Counsel Oath also guides the General Counsel in sparking change inside their own organizations and across the wider legal industry, ultimately leading to positive societal impact.
Some elements of this Oath are based on a “Skills and Behaviours” model that my team uses to ensure that all members – from junior to most senior – understand the path for career development, and the expectation that ethics, integrity, self-improvement and a commitment to human rights, human dignity and community are as important as professional skills. I recommend that other leaders consider a similar approach for their teams. Ultimately, my hope is that those who support the Oath and put it into practice will experience more satisfying and enriching personal and professional lives.
* Note that while I generally use the title “General Counsel,” individuals with similar leadership roles such as Chief Legal Officer, Legal Director, Chief Compliance Officer or Chief Ethics Officer are also invited to take the Oath.
No matter which country you live in, or what type of organization you work for, please take the Oath and celebrate having done so with your teams, colleagues, and professional acquaintances.
“I have taken the General Counsel Oath”
Simon Zinger August 2020
Group General Counsel
Member, State Bar of California
Member, District of Columbia Bar
Admitted to Practice in the Senior Courts of England & Wales