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Hiring General Counsel is one of the most important company decisions board members will make, yet many are not adequately prepared for it. The Corporate Governance Research Initiative at the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that fewer than half of all respondents surveyed have a formal succession planning process in place.

Today, General Counsel succession planning is no longer just good business practice—it’s an essential function of risk management. Because the GC plays such a crucial role in protecting the company from litigation and regulatory fines, companies cannot afford to be without one, even for a short time.

Survey results show many companies assume the next GC will come from within the company, and many do. However, identifying the strongest internal candidates, developing them and benchmarking against outside recruits still requires time and a well-organized approach.

Here are four ways companies can begin planning now to hire General Counsel.

Involve key stakeholders.

Planning for your next General Counsel is a team effort, not a single person job. Bring senior managers into the process from the beginning. C-suite executives can provide valuable insight on the direction of the company, and this should guide your efforts. If the General Counsel is still part of the team, he or she can offer input about the responsibilities, competencies and characteristics to look for in a successor. 

Outline the process.

It’s important to clearly identify the roles of those on the succession planning committee so each member knows where he or she fits into the process. The committee will likely include the CEO, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, as well as other key executives and possibly a board member.

Decide which members of your team will be responsible for each step in the process, from the initial phone screenings and panel interviews to formal interviews. Finally, set a timeline to keep the search on schedule. If the process doesn’t flow like clockwork, strong candidates will be turned off. They don’t want to work with a company that is indecisive.

Clearly define the role.

Your key stakeholders can help you determine what competencies and characteristics are most important so you can tailor the job description and interview questions accordingly. The search process is also a good opportunity to identify other attributes your company wants in its next leader. If your company lacks diversity, make it a goal to include diverse candidates in the final slate. If the strategy is shifting, consider what skills the General Counsel will need five years from now.

Assess existing talent.

If succession planning becomes part of an ongoing management development strategy, as it should, you may identify several internal candidates who potentially fit the job description. They may be ready to hit the ground running, or they may need some additional training and experience, but don’t overlook these rising stars. Internal candidates have the advantage of already fitting into your corporate culture and having a good understanding of your business objectives and challenges.

Don’t take them for granted. You may be looking to promote someone in two years, but your competitors could be pursuing him or her right now. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but let talented team members know they are valued. Let them in on your vision for the future. If you’ve already identified strong internal contenders, it’s still important to bring in outside candidates for comparison. Benchmarking will also help you define compensation parameters so you can be sure you’re offering competitive pay to top talent.

GC succession planning is certainly more prevalent than it was even five years ago, but many companies still aren’t doing enough to prepare. As strategy-driven GCs become increasingly difficult to replace, companies need to focus now on their long-term legal needs and how they will address them. Working with a legal recruiting firm with specific expertise in hiring General Counsel can help you identify top contenders within your ogranization and determine who else outside the company is a good fit. 

For advice about what else your company can do to plan ahead, download our free guide “7 Steps You Should Be Taking Now to Find Your Next GC.”

7 Steps You Should Be Taking Now to Find Your Next GC


Topics: Recruiting   |   Succession Planning   |   Bob Barker


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