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WikiLeak Lessons: New Corporate Disclosure Issues Facing GCs

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By Jason Beahm on December 28, 2010 5:48 AM

General counsels are facing new corporate disclosure issues in the wake of the WikiLeaks fallout. As a recent Forbes article detailed, the scandals have attorneys and companies reconsidering their own vulnerabilities for corporate disclosure. For example, what would happen if someone from your company started leaking information to WikiLeaks? Would you be able to stop them? How damaging would the leaking of inside information be for your company? These are questions that any in house attorney should be contemplating.

Are there people in your organization that are angry, spiteful or vengeful? (Chances are that the answer is yes just about anywhere.) Whereas in the past such an employee might have taken to keying the boss' car, they now may instead turn to WikiLeaks. "Companies turn people into leakers by their failure to listen, look and respond," says business consultant and author Margaret Heffernan told Forbes.

"It will no longer be a company's general counsel who will decide if and when something is disclosed to the public. Now, it's any insider with a flash drive who's troubled or disgruntled by an organization's conduct," Forbes writes.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange recently told Forbes that half of the WikiLeaks documents have come from corporations, and early next year WikiLeaks will begin releasing them. The first target is rumored to be Bank of America. Just the rumor of the release of the documents seriously impacted the company, with stock dropping by 3% just after the rumors emerged.

So what steps should your company take to prevent unwanted corporate disclosure? The article offers a number of useful tips, including:

  • Establish and maintain a culture of civility and transparency. Don't put anything in an email unless you're prepared to read about it on the front page of the newspaper.
  • View dissent within your organization as a positive thing.
  • Listen to your employees, and address their concerns.
  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

For all of us, including and especially general counsel, we live in interesting times. Instead of complaining about WikiLeaks, be proactive now and stay as far ahead of the curve as you can.

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