Executive vice president and general counsel, Aon Corporation
Founded in 1919 and headquartered in Chicago, Aon Corporation is one of the world’s largest providers of insurance brokerage, risk management and human capital consulting, with 46,000 employees working in 500 offices in 120 countries. In the past 20 years, acquisition and internal development have catapulted Aon to its current position of market dominance, beginning in 1982 with the acquisition of the merged entity comprising Ryan Insurance Group and Combined International, followed by Hudig Langeveldt, Rollins Burdick Hunter, Miller Mason & Dickenson and Alexander & Alexander (among others).
Cameron Findlay joined Aon Corporation in 2003, having previously served as deputy secretary of labour in Washington, DC, a cabinet agency with 17,000 employees and an annual budget of US$70 billion. His other governmental appointments include: deputy assistant to the president and counsellor to the chief of staff in the White House during the administration of George W Bush; he has also acted as counsellor to the secretary of transportation. Between 1992 and 2001, Findlay was a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, focusing his practice on litigation, regulatory, antitrust and appellate matters in the financial, telecommunications and energy industries.
Findlay describes “a feeling of ownership in one’s legal work, better knowledge of business and greater partnership with business” as the greatest attributes of working in-house. But there are particular challenges associated with the role of in-house counsel: “In companies, lawyers can be viewed as nay-sayers or obstacles so [one must] endeavour to develop ways to accomplish things rather than just saying ‘no’ all the time; and be prepared to handle a varied amount of matters at a high level of generality with very short time frames. In-house lawyers don’t have the luxury of pondering issues for long periods of time and massaging drafts until they are perfect. It’s more important than ever to be quick on one’s feet and conversant with numerous areas of the law.”
Generally, the in-house team will take care of regulatory, contracts, securities filings, real estate, employment law, ERISA, outsourcing matters and general advice. In Illinois, Aon relies on the external support of major international law firms for litigation and large transactions, and frequently refer such matters to Sidley Austin LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Illinois presents specific challenges as “home to some very difficult ‘judicial hellhole’ jurisdictions (ie, Madison County) and a somewhat ossified political system. [However] one advantage is that tax rates are relatively low for a large state.”
Despite his diverse professional experience, Findlay enjoys the life of an in-house counsel, bringing together “myriad legal issues” and using his judgement to discover creative ways to solve issues and cut costs. “Overall”, he says, “it’s much more fun to be in-house.”
Role: Executive vice president and general counsel
Company: Aon Corporation
Employees: 46, 000 worldwide
Legal dept size: Approximately 100 (global)
Preferred law firms: Sidley Austin LLP (corporate and litigation) and Kirkland & Ellis LLP (litigation).
Creativity, patience, teamwork, common sense. Stunning brilliance is less important than good judgment.
I don’t think that the job of general counsel is becoming any more specialised. The role of junior lawyers can be more specialised, as larger companies move some functions in-house.
Responsiveness, responsiveness, responsiveness. Outside lawyers should recognise that when a general counsel calls, someone else who is the GC’s boss is looking for a quick answer.
For large matters, where it’s not practical to handle in-house (large cases or transactions). For very specialised areas of the law that don’t arise every day (eg, US Treasury regulations on investments in prohibited countries). When it’s necessary to call upon specialised experience (eg, in dealing with a particular government agency).
Charging for every last minute of work; and not responding to requests for assistance in a timely manner.
Recognise that in-house lawyers have CEOs and CFOs watching their legal spending, and work with the in-house lawyers to come up with creative ways to cut costs.
Replacing the billable hour paradigm with alternative ways of charging for legal work.
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