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Top 5 Moves to Become a General Counsel

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Legal leaders who aspire to the ultimate legal professional achievement, the General Counsel, spend their careers making tactical decisions to achieve their goal. While there are infinite paths to become a General Counsel, all legal leaders aspiring to the next step in their careers can benefit from similar advice on personal and professional development. Below we share five strategic moves to make as an Aspiring General Counsel.

Five of BarkerGilmore’s esteemed Senior Advisors, all former General Counsel themselves, provided their invaluable insights on strategic moves to make toward becoming a General Counsel: Maureen Brundage, Noah Hanft, Marla Persky, Helen Pudlin, and A.B. Cruz III. Each one 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. They now share their top moves to help you prepare for your goal.

1. Volunteer

When opportunities arise to take on additional projects, roles, and responsibilities, be the first to step up and offer your skills. Volunteering shows gumption and drive to not only help solve a problem or meet a need, but it demonstrates an innate willingness to resolve any issue the company may face, be it legal or business-related. The executive team needs to see that you are ready and able to step up to support the team and company.

2. Stretch Assignments

In BarkerGilmore’s 2020 General Counsel Succession Report, promoted and recruited General Counsel both reported stretch assignments as a top form of professional development they received prior to becoming a General Counsel. Speak to your manager about opportunities to expand your skill set. Stretch assignments provide on-the-job experience that a General Counsel needs in scenarios outside of your normal roles and responsibilities. Asking and advocating for these opportunities shows your manager, and the executive team, that you are invested in growth and development.

3. Innovate an Area

Look for gaps in the company that do not have talent filling the need and say you will. If you see a need, step up and address it. This area does not need to be within the legal department; it can be a business problem. Is diversity lacking in your organization? Could the company benefit from a health and wellness committee? Think outside the box and beyond your legal duties to innovate an area that is lacking. This will also help expose you to decision makers around the company who will learn your name and your ability to problem-solve. You need champions across the business to know who you are and what you are capable of.

4. Work on Your Development Opportunities

Each year we participate in evaluation processes that show our strengths and identify areas for improvement. Many of us look forward to these evaluations for the raises and bonuses that often follow; however, an Aspiring General Counsel must take the feedback in these evaluations seriously. Work on those areas of progress and address your developmental areas. This is not about simply showing your manager appreciation for their feedback. The best leaders understand that continuous self-improvement is vital for all of us, regardless of our title.

5. Business Knowledge

To say that a General Counsel must understand their company and its business is an understatement. A General Counsel fully comprehends all aspects of their company across all departments possible. Their financial acumen must be impeccable. They understand that improving the profile of the company to external audiences is as much their responsibility as the CEO’s. If you aspire to become a General Counsel, you must take the time to immerse yourself within the business in ways you never have before. Volunteering to solve problems, taking on stretch assignments, and innovating where possible will give you experience with colleagues and departments that will expand your ability to truly ‘know’ your company.

The General Counsel needs to be a strategic business partner who is able to guide the leadership team in taking risks, rather than avoiding them all together, and who is eager to add value at every turn. As an integral member of the leadership team, there is a responsibility to lead, strategize, and develop trust.


Our team of Senior Advisors are available to provide guidance in the development of and preparation for General Counsel succession. Please reach out if you or your organization may benefit from our recruiting, leadership development, or law and compliance department consulting.

Topics: In-House Counsel   |   GC Succession   |   General Counsel

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