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If It’s Not Legal Skill, What Exactly Are Corporations Looking for in Their General Counsel?

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New research from NYSE Governance Services and BarkerGilmore
 offers a revealing look at current and future expectations for General Counsel. Our 2016 survey underscores that in the minds of executives, the purview of today’s GC has evolved well beyond the traditional role of chief legal officer and corporate secretary.

The survey canvassed U.S. corporate directors and executive officers to identify trends related to GC roles and responsibilities, with an eye toward helping legal departments better prepare for the future needs of their corporations.

While the scope of GC duties varies with company size and industry, the survey findings point to an overall shift toward GCs becoming influential members of the senior management team. More than 70 percent of respondents agree that by 2020, the most valuable GC functions will shift from serving as an ethical sounding board and ensuring adherence to best compliance practices, to serving as an adviser to the CEO and board.

How significant is this change? Consider that throughout much of the 20th century, most GCs did not typically report to the CEO, as did other members of the executive team, but rather to the chief financial officer. That underscored the perception that the General Counsel was a lesser member of the corporate leadership team. Since that time, however, an enhanced regulatory landscape and a tidal wave of complex mergers and acquisitions have elevated the potential value of the GC to corporations.

In our 2016 survey, 93 percent of respondents consider the GC a member of executive management, compared with 81 percent just a decade ago. And that number is expected to rise in coming years.

What do executives really believe about what makes the best General Counsel?

As the scope of enterprise risk oversight and corporate governance has expanded, so too has the role of the corporate General Counsel. Among key findings of the NYSE/BarkerGilmore 2016 survey:

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  • The role of the GC continues to extend into new areas, with 14% currently serving as chief risk officer, a number expected to more than double by 2020.
  • Asked about top traits for General Counsel in the near term, directors and officers listed sound judgement (72%) and high integrity (69%), ahead of legal expertise (63%).
  • In evaluating GC performance, only 40% of respondents consider ROI an important consideration.

As General Counsel rises in profile and clout, competition for the best and the brightest is heating up as well. At BarkerGilmore we place top legal and compliance talent in coveted positions including General Counsel. We have the technology, scope, experience and dedication to find the ideal individual for the job. In fact, our 96% placement rate is the highest in the industry.

Topics: Legal Talent   |   Recruiting   |   Recruiting General Counsel   |   John Gilmore

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