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In December 2020, BarkerGilmore released its 2020 Aspiring General Counsel Report which investigates current legal counsel who aspire to become General Counsel in their careers. Two hundred ninety-one legal counsel from our randomly sampled population responded to the survey during the summer of 2020.

Aspiring General Counsel were found to be 54% men and 46% women – showing a similar desire to achieve the ultimate legal accomplishment: becoming a General Counsel. In BarkerGilmore’s 2020 General Counsel Succession Report, sitting GCs were found to be 64% men and 36% women. Thus, there appears to be a gap between women who aspire to achieve the position and those who ultimately get there. That having been said, this is arguably the first time that thorough research has been performed in this area. As such, there is no historic data to compare these new findings to. It is very possible that the gap seen between women who aspire to become General Counsel and those who achieve it has closed, but additional monitoring and analysis will be needed.

The report also asked respondents about the types of professional development that they are receiving. In their current role, the professional development most likely to have been received includes an expanding scope of responsibilities (55%), leadership training (42%), increased C-suite and board exposure (39%) and stretch assignments (36%). These professional development types align with what sitting GCs indicated they received to prepare them for their roles per the 2020 General Counsel Succession Report.

As leaders in executive coaching, BarkerGilmore wanted to know how often in-house counsel are receiving coaching to help them achieve their career goals. Thirty-five percent of Aspiring General Counsel report having hired an executive coach. This is significant because twice as many sitting GCs who were promoted from within reported having hired an executive coach than those who did not hire a coach (50% versus 26%). Therefore, those who aspire to become General Counsel at their current company can benefit from executive coaching services.

Other notable trends in the report include:

  • About half of Aspiring General Counsel want to become the General Counsel of their current company, 49%, versus 51% that do not. Those with more experience (based on their JD year) were more likely to desire to become General Counsel outside their current organization. Interestingly, those who identified as ‘Asian or Asian American’ or ‘Black or African American’ were the least likely race identifications to report aspiring to become General Counsel at their current company.
  • Twenty-eight percent of Aspiring General Counsel have been identified by management as a potential successor to the General Counsel, compared to 27% who have not been identified, and 45% who are unsure of their successor status. Of the 28% who said they have been identified as a successor to the current General Counsel, men were more likely to have been identified as a successor. However, women are more likely than men to say that their potential successor status has kept them from pursuing other opportunities outside their company (55% women versus 42% men).
  • Most Aspiring General Counsel learned about their current role from an executive recruiter (23%) or a friend/colleague (23%).

To explore more insights from the 2020 Aspiring General Counsel Report, visit our research library.


Our team of Senior Advisors has an incredible track record in coaching and mentoring in-house lawyers who have since ascended to the role of General Counsel themselves, many at Fortune 500 companies, and they are available to provide guidance to those seeking to advance their careers. Please reach out if you or your organization may benefit from our recruitingleadership development, or law and compliance department consulting.

Topics: Women in Law   |   General Counsel   |   Report

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