It's amazing how fragile a reputation can be. Take Barry Bonds for example. The man was a home-run god, destined for the Hall of Fame. Today he's lucky if a kid wants his autograph. Tom Cruise is in the same boat. For years the star of "Risky Business" was a darling of the silver screen. Today I am not sure he could land the job as host of "Family Feud."
Their falls from grace and inability to salvage their reputations are their own doing. Both have hidden behind their publicists, hoping the dark cloud enveloping their careers dissipates. That will never happen unless they are willing to be truthful and face their detractors.
Mark Belnick, the former general counsel of Tyco International, knows this all too well. For the past few years, he has been an outcast in the legal community. Although a jury acquitted him in July 2004 of accusations he stole millions of dollars in unauthorized bonuses and loans from Tyco, many in the legal community still branded him a crook.
Instead of hiding, however, Mark decided to face his critics. He did so for the first time at InsideCounsel's annual conference April 18 in Chicago. For 45 minutes, Mark stood on stage and talked about the events leading up to his trial for 14 felonies that he didn't commit. He told the audience of in-house lawyers that they too could end up with their reputations in shambles at the hands of overzealous prosecutors.
Should we believe he did nothing wrong? I can tell you that about 400 in-house counsel did. At the end of his speech, just about every GC in attendance gave him a standing ovation. Although nobody wanted his autograph, many asked him for a business card. (Mark has set up his own firm in New York that focuses on litigation and corporate investigations).
Mark's keynote address was so captivating that we have decided to run excerpts from it on our Web site at www.insidecounsel.com and in our July issue. In his speech, you will learn how one of your own was swept up into the hysteria following the collapse of Enron and WorldCom. You will learn about a man who believed in the legal system and refused to allow prosecutors to bully him into a plea bargain. And you will learn about a man who had the courage to stand in front of a room full of in-house lawyers and tell them that the only thing he was guilty of was trying to do his job as general counsel.
By doing so, Mark has made great strides in repairing his once stellar legal reputation.