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8 Trends for Fortune 500 General Counsel Appointments in 2020


Every year, we see approximately 10% of Fortune 500 companies appoint a new top legal executive. In 2020, 44 lawyers were appointed to the enterprise GC or CLO post compared to 56 in 2019. While this suggests lower turnover in 2020, twelve of the F500 are between GCs, creating a robust and competitive 2021 market for talent.

BarkerGilmore’s research team further dissected these findings to shed light on the path leading to this highly sought-after position. A few of the standout trends for 2020 were a higher percentage of appointments coming from outside of the company and an increased percentage of these hires being women. The overall percentage of women GCs in the Fortune 500 increased slightly to 34% in 2020, up from 33% in 2019, 28% in 2018, and 26% in 2017. While women are slowly gaining ground, male appointments were more likely to be promoted from within. Succession planning and building diverse teams with high caliber future leaders continues to be a high priority for sitting GCs.

The following summarizes other noteworthy elements from the 2020 data:

  1. 44 Fortune 500 companies appointed a new General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer in 2020, 2 of whom are serving on an interim basis.
  2. 22 of these appointments (50%) were internal promotions.
  3. 23 of the newly appointed GCs were women and/or minorities, representing 52% of all appointments made over the year.
  4. A total of 19 women (43%) were newly appointed; 7 were promoted from within and 12 came from outside, the latter including 9 former sitting GCs and 1 former divisional GC.
  5. 13 of the newly appointed women replaced male GCs.
  6. Of the internal successors, 14% of women and 13% of men were promoted to GC within two years of joining the company.
  7. The average tenure before internal promotion to GC was 9 years for women and 11 years for men.
  8. 12 Fortune 500 companies have an empty General Counsel seat.

Female GC AppointmentsMale GC Appointments

What does it take to become a Fortune 500 General Counsel?

The motivation behind this article comes from the sheer volume of times lawyers ask us, “What does it take to become a Fortune 500 General Counsel?” As the results show, one cannot stereotype the journey to General Counsel by skillset or career path – and that’s something we’ve been saying for decades. Appointees come from corporations, law firms, and government agencies, representing a myriad of practice areas including corporate law, labor and employment, litigation, regulatory, and IP. According to CEOs and sitting GCs, the common threads leading to a General Counsel appointment point to abilities not found on a resumé: gravitas, establishing trusted relationships, leadership experience, success working outside of their core practice area, performance on high stakes matters, mentorship, access to the board, and cultural fit.

Prior Positions of Outside Hires

Everyone at BarkerGilmore is committed to the advancement of others through the placement and development of General CounselChief Compliance Officers, and succession talent. In over 30 years of recruiting, nothing is more satisfying than watching a candidate thrive. We are proud of our mission to move the needle on leadership diversity and look forward to the work and new relationships awaiting us in 2021. Please reach out if you or your organization may benefit from our recruiting, leadership development, or law and compliance department consulting services.

Topics: Legal Talent   |   John Gilmore   |   General Counsel


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