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A Commentary on the GC’s Expanded Role


The responsibilities of the General Counsel have expanded in recent years, propelling a position once known solely as the head of the legal department into a key executive team member who contributes to strategic and risk management decisions. To recruit and retain exceptional talent, many corporations are investing in GC compensation at higher rates than ever before. BarkerGilmore and Equilar recently released the General Counsel Pay Trends 2020 Report to inform the GC compensation conversation. The report examines GCs who are Named Executive Officers at the 500 largest (by reported revenue) U.S.-headquartered companies that trade on one of the three major U.S. stock exchanges (Nasdaq, NYSE, or NYSE American).

John Gilmore, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at BarkerGilmore, spoke with Equilar regarding the report’s findings and the continuing evolution of the GC’s role.

Equilar: The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted the corporate landscape over the last few months. How has the pandemic impacted the responsibilities of the General Counsel? What role should the General Counsel play during crisis response?

John Gilmore: Having spent more than thirty years in executive search, four monumental dates remain indelible standouts in my career: terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the onset of the financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 12, 2008, state governors ordering shelter-in-place restrictions on March 20, 2020 and the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Prior to each occurrence, warning signs were flashing but mostly ignored. Following these events, priorities shifted, and the way we conduct business changed dramatically for the long term. Today, health, family and social justice are at the top of the list for most.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, General Counsel (GC) and their law departments have risen to the challenge and continued to face the high-water mark for business intensity. Trained for crisis management, General Counsel are relied on now more than ever by CEOs and boards for their strategic insights, finely tuned leadership skills, and ability to influence others. In addition to determining the best path forward, counseling on how and when messages should be delivered internally and externally is of equal importance. First and foremost, considerations focused on employee and customer safety: putting plans in place to prevent the spread of the virus and establishing what actions to take when someone tests positive. The second consideration was the daunting task of continuing business operations while ensuring compliance with rapidly changing regulations unique to each state of operation. General Counsel have had to roll up their sleeves, shore up liquidity, and create a lifeline for businesses by raising capital and analyzing and renegotiating debt covenants to infuse and/or retain cash.

Many General Counsel have also taken a leadership role, managing diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives ensuring they reflect the company’s commitment to social justice. With these responsibilities remaining on General Counsel’s plates, the focus has now turned to structurally reengineering the business to modernize the employee and customer experience while running as lean as possible.

Equilar: Comment on the current state of General Counsel pay.

John Gilmore: General Counsel remain optimistic about businesses bouncing back in a meaningful way, and the silver lining will be greater equality for all, more efficient and cost-effective operations, and consequently, greater shareholder value. Every day, I have the privilege of speaking with these humble, super-humans, and rarely is compensation a priority. Their passion, ability to tackle the most complex challenges, and commitment to leading others on a journey to higher ground is infectious. No matter the level of compensation, General Counsel have proven time and time again to be invaluable.

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Topics: Interview   |   Compensation   |   General Counsel


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