When people talk about the C-Suite, they’re generally referring to the CEO, COO, or other titles that start with “chief.” Here’s one that should be added to that list: corporate counsel. The role that these executives play, from in-house counsel to general counsel, has become critical to a company’s success.

Beyond compliance, defense, and other traditional corporate legal concerns, major business dealings rise and fall on the in-house attorneys’ ability to make them happen. Through cost-cutting initiatives, counsels also are having a growing impact on a company’s bottom line.

The 21 honorees in this year’s Corporate Counsel Awards program, a partnership between the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel and D CEO, provide ample evidence of these claims.

Consider Laurie Biddle, solo general counsel at Hall Financial Group. In the past 18 months she has closed transactions for Hall totaling more than $450 million. That includes, among other things, selling multifamily properties, acquiring a majority ownership interest in Roessler, a wine producer in Sonoma, Calif.; and establishing a joint venture between Hall and Marathon Oil.

Then there’s Gary Kennedy, the head of legal affairs, corporate compliance, and corporate governance at American Airlines. “Two events stand out,” he says: the purchase of “up to 925 Boeing and Airbus aircraft,” with a transactional value of “in excess $50 billion, and negotiating antitrust approvals to allow American to form joint ventures with Japan Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia Airlines.

At La Quinta Inn & Suites, Mark Chloupek has cut legal costs by more than 70 percent since 2006—at a time when the company has nearly doubled in size, expanding from 435 to 806 hotels.

This year, we’re pleased to present our first Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor, by unanimous vote, goes to Jack Balagia Jr., general counsel at Exxon Mobil Corp. Despite managing a dizzying array of high-stakes transactional and corporate governance issues, and overseeing litigation throughout the world (assisted by a team of 450 in-house attorneys in 30 offices), Balagia spearheads the company’s pro bono program and coordinates ExxonMobil’s support of charities like United Way. He also holds leadership roles in a long list of legal and civic organizations.

Read more about Balagia and all 21 Corporate Counsel Awards honorees on the following pages.

This year’s winners and finalists were selected by an esteemed panel of judges: Erle Nye, chairman emeritus of TXU Corp.; PJ Putnam, CEO, 410 Garfield Films; Andres Ruzo, CEO, LinkAmerica; Clay Scheitzach, vice president and senior corporate counsel, Affiliated Computer Services Inc.; and Mark Smith, vice president, The Center for American and International Law. We’re grateful for their expert participation.