8 Questions with Award-Winning General Counsel


Michael Thompson, EY

Interviewed by Stephanie Hacksel, Client Partner, ZSA Legal Recruitment

1. Why did you decide to become a general counsel?

That move took place over time and was really an evolution driven by a combination of events. I had the opportunity to move from the position of General Counsel of EY Canada into handling risk management on a global basis. Through that process,  I moved up the chain into my current position.  

2. What role do you play in helping shape the corporate culture?

There are over 200,000 people at EY, so it is difficult for one person to shape corporate culture. However, I sit on the global risk management committee.  That’s one of the senior EY committees and the policies and decisions made by that group have an impact on the culture of the entire organization.  Beyond that, I travel extensively and interact personally with many people at EY. I try to live the core values of the organization and promote them through my dealings with individuals.

3. How do you handle the reporting role to the CEO and the Board?

Not Applicable.

4. How do you navigate risk management?

Risk management is organized at a global and then a regional level. I am part of that risk management structure and work with people within this structure to identify and protect against risks.

5. What is the biggest professional challenge you have faced during your career?

My biggest challenge to date was developing and managing a law firm aligned with EY in Canada and globally. In the late 1990’s, EY globally decided to expand its legal services offerings. In Canada, we created the law firm Donahue and Associates. I was heavily involved in that project.

6. What do you look for when making hiring decisions for your department?

Quite simply, I look for the best people.

7. How do you handle the outside firm relationship with legal assignments?

EY has standard processes, billing rates and electronic systems that ensure consistency.  More importantly, however, I like to work with a smaller number of outside firms and create strong relationships with people and firms that I can trust. I find this approach facilitates better communication and faster turnaround. It also means that the firms know us and understand our business, ensuring that we get advice that properly takes into consideration the business context.

8. What advice would you give to prepare for moving beyond the counsel office within the company?

Be open to opportunities beyond your comfort zone. As lawyers, our core proficiency is understanding and applying the law. To move beyond the General Counsel office, you need to be comfortable going beyond the application of your legal skills.