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Best Practices for General Counsel Succession Planning


Like other executives, General Counsel are tasked with identifying and developing their successor. While hiring a new General Counsel from the outside can be costly, considering expenses like executive search fees, buying out unvested equity and unpaid bonuses, and relocation, the benefits of promoting an internal candidate to General Counsel are significant. Moreover, there is always a chance that an outside hire will not align with the leadership team or integrate well into the corporate culture. But, if properly mentored, the internal successor should already have a deep understanding of the business, sound relationships intact with the leadership team and Board, and alignment with company culture.

At BarkerGilmore, nothing makes us happier than watching the succession-line candidates we’ve placed accomplish so much for our clients and ultimately be promoted to General Counsel. Our candidate placement stick rate is 96% after a three-year period which we attribute to our unique assessment process developed originally for General Counsel assessment and now adopted for all leadership hires. This assessment process has been refined and updated over time to reflect the demands from the CEO and the Board. Using a dual lens for strategic hires, the assessment allows for not only the best lawyer to be hired for the position at hand, but it also attracts candidates who have what it takes to develop into a General Counsel. Attempting to develop successors, many General Counsel allow their Deputy General Counsel to manage the day-to-day business of the law department while also providing necessary exposure to high stakes litigation or regulatory matters, sizable transactions, and corporate governance matters. Leadership roles on Board committees also serve as good development opportunities while gaining trust and visibility from executives.

Our General Counsel Leadership Assessment Process

BarkerGilmore’s six-part assessment reveals these necessary qualifications, giving GCs and executives the insight they need to know how to properly develop their successors:

  • High Emotional Intelligence: humility, good listener, relationship builder, calm under pressure
  • Judgment: thoughtful, flawless character, track record of sound decision-making
  • Business and Legal Acumen: financial and business savvy, broad legal skills matching the specific needs of the company
  • Leadership: purposeful leader and mentor, track record of hiring top talent, low attrition rate
  • Risk Tolerance: alignment with leadership risk appetite
  • Cultural Fit: personality, chemistry, values

Benefits of Hiring General Counsel Internally

Often, the hiring requirement from Fortune 500 companies that presents the biggest challenge in the search for a new GC is significant public company securities and governance experience. The requirement exists because CEOs are more comfortable hiring a General Counsel with proven experience working closely with the Board, thus giving rise to fewer questions that the candidate will be able to handle these relationships successfully. Other specific experience – including direct regulator interface, international M&A, labor & employment, litigation, and intellectual property - can be gained while working in the business. Though this experience in securities and governance is unparalleled, when hiring a sitting General Counsel, one company celebrates at the expense of another. But, when there is an opportunity to promote from within, the costs – both actual money costs and “culture costs” - of hiring decreases, and the likelihood of long-term success greatly increases.

Increased compensation helps to retain lawyers, of course. However, consistently challenging top performers to push outside their comfort zone, increasing leadership responsibility, supporting MBAs or other advanced training, and allowing access to the executive team and Board are much more productive means to get the most out of valued team members and increase overall satisfaction. General Counsel should be encouraged by the opportunity to develop and mentor not only those who are similar to them, but those who can bring something else to the table. For many General Counsel, the proudest measure of their success is not their own personal achievement, but how their legacy lives on.

Contact BarkerGilmore for Succession Planning and Development
For coaching and mentoring services for your company’s General Counsel succession plan, contact BarkerGilmore today. Our GC&CCO AdvantageSM allows us to develop the best GC successors internally by allowing you to collaborate with our team of committed experts and gain access to their unique level of expertise.

Topics: Succession Planning   |   Legal   |   GC Succession


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