Simon Zinger, group general counsel at Dentsu, noticed a lack of coordinated and collective behavior from in-house legal teams and organizations in response to corporate social responsibilities and social justice. He saw varying levels of actions and different stories being told by different companies and thought if he created something all GCs could collectively achieve, then overall, legal leaders would be generating a stronger impact because they would all be moving in the same direction with common goals. Thus, Simon began drawing the road map that has become the GC Oath.
The GC Oath, inspired by the Hippocratic Oath for doctors, is meant for general counsel and other legal department leaders so they can foster a consistent and global approach to actions that can be taken across certain critical areas. The oath speaks to professional responsibility and ethics; leadership, diversity and inclusion; social impact and pro bono; internal clients; external parties; and personal behavior.
On September 1, 2020, the GC Oath was released, and it has garnered an overwhelming positive response.
Q: How has the oath been received by the legal community?
A: I have seen many positive reactions from individual general counsel who have declared their personal commitment to the oath on LinkedIn.
A number of the law firms we work with have been very helpful. They’ve added it to their own initiatives, so they have panels and they have different ways of how they engage with clients. I asked a few of them to weave it into their own efforts because they obviously work with a lot of GCs.
One of the most wonderful things has been the support from the Association of Corporate Counsel. They approved, at the board level, that all of their global chapters would support it, endorse it and promote it to their constituencies. It’s amazing; I was not expecting that level of support. The Minority Corporate Counsel Association was very quick to share the oath with their membership. And the Thomson Reuters Foundation gave us their endorsement.
I’ve spoken on a few panels. It’s been nice. I’ve been able to promote it at the ACC annual conference and on a few Thomson Reuters panels recently, speaking about diversity inclusion and leadership. My primary ambition at the moment is to raise as much awareness as I can about it.
People will take to it in different ways. Some people will see the value in it. Some people might say it’s not for me, but as long as I can get in front of someone and have them see it, then maybe they will think about whether it can be one tool amongst several different ways in which they approach some of the issues that I address in the document.
Q: How has Dentsu responded to the oath?
A: Dentsu has been very supportive and helped me with some of my media and promotional efforts. I am fortunate that Dentsu is already supportive and encouraging of our legal team’s growing pro bono initiatives. I feel that many of my colleagues are supportive because they see the oath initiative as a natural extension of the many projects the company is undertaking in the areas of diversity, inclusion and social impact more broadly.
Q: What inspired you to create the GC Oath?
A: I saw what was happening in the U.S. in the spring, with the increasing focus on social injustice, and I felt like I needed to do something. But I was struggling to understand what more we as a team could do, or I could do personally. I started participating in or at least listening to panel discussions and understanding what different organizations were doing. But the more I listened, the more confused I was and the more I couldn’t actually pinpoint what I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it. So, I sat back and almost drew this road map, looking at what things are important to me as a lawyer and a leader. If I have influence in my organization, if I have a certain kind of power, if I can take things in a certain direction, what will do?
Q: What are your next steps?
A: For my team, we’re working on how we now build this into our framework, how we as a team support each other, and, develop each other and recruit people. My team is very keen to take it to the next level in terms of how we behave as a team.
This is something I didn’t expect: one person took a forensic approach to it in the sense that he came to me and said, “I really liked this, but I don’t think I can commit to it,” and he took time to actually think through his own life journey and philosophical makeup. He really went deep into his soul about the things that were in the oath, and he just said, “If I’m going to do this, I want to do this properly. Before I commit, I need to work on a few areas.” So, for him, he took a very deep look into himself, and it opened his eyes to maybe other things that he could work on as a human being.
For the legal community, it’s spreading the word. I hope to reach general counsel across the world with the oath, so that they have the opportunity to consider whether it is something they can personally support, and then inform their teams, legal suppliers and organizations about.
Q: How can GCs and the legal community show their commitment?
A: I decided early on that it’s something I couldn’t track. It’s really a personal commitment.
GCs can visit https://generalcounseloath.com/ to take the oath. Then the key thing is, if you take the commitment, tell your team about it, because it’s something you want to celebrate internally. Maybe tell your law firms about it and explain why you are taking the commitment. If you want to tell people on social media or in other communities, that’s a personal decision. The real difference should come, and on so many levels, when GCs start putting the commitments into action.