In-house counsel at major corporations are emerging as corporate leaders, a leading industry figure said last week.

Philippe Coen (right), president of the European Company Lawyers Association, said in-house legal teams are no longer simply there to rubber-stamp the will of management.

He told a Bingham Centre conference in Brussels that in-house lawyers have learned to be more visible to company leaders. ‘When one asks CEOs why they hired a legal department, it is not that they want someone to give legal advice reflecting what the CEO wants,’ he said.

‘The approach now is the complete opposite. The idea of in-house counsel as submissive or dependent is over – that caricature has gone.’

Coen, assistant regional counsel for The Walt Disney Company, has co-edited a white paper on the independence of company lawyers.

In the paper, he said counsel are the ones creating internal policies and codes of conduct – as well as helping to shape the future of their employer.

At the Brussels event, Steve Preece, assistant director at the Competition and Markets Authority, urged in-house lawyers to be proactive to ensure their companies remain compliant with competition law.

He added: ‘When there is a perception that the legal department is the “department of no” and says you can’t do something, it can create a scenario where people don’t take that advice or avoid seeking advice at all, and think they know better than the law and this can in turn drive non-compliance.’