Cops, counsel, and entrepreneurs: Constructing the role of inside counsel in large corporations

Robert L. Nelson*, Laura Beth Nielsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

87 Scopus citations


Inside counsel to major corporations have accrued more power and status within the legal profession, but continue to struggle for influence and legitimacy within the corporation. In-depth interviews with lawyers and managers in large businesses reveal that inside counsel construct different professional roles for themselves depending on circumstances. We identify three ideal types of such roles: they act as cops (limiting their advice to legal mandates), counsel (combining legal and business advice), or entrepreneurs (giving priority to business objectives rather than legal analysis). The entrepreneurial role and its associated discourse seem to mark a departure from earlier studies of inside counsel. We argue that entrepreneurial tendencies reflect the efforts of corporate counsel to adapt their images and lawyering styles to the prerogatives of contemporary management. Accordingly, inside lawyers limit their gatekeeping functions, emphasize their dedication to managerial objectives, and defer to management's judgments about legal risk. Nonetheless, inside counsel retain their professional identities as lawyers and rarely express an interest in moving into corporate management. Inside counsel are "professionals" who present themselves as enthusiastically committed to corporate objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)457-493
Number of pages37
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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