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What’s the Most Common Path to the General Counsel Seat?

Philip Bantz | Law.com - October 28, 2020

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General counsel reach the top of the legal department ladder by following a variety of paths and strategies, though some are more common than others.

Many chief lawyers got to where they are by taking on more responsibilities, increasing their exposure to the C-suite and board of directors, and hiring an executive coach, according to a general counsel succession report from legal executive search firm BarkerGilmore.

Coincidentally, Wednesday’s report came out the same day that Whirlpool Corp. announced a succession plan for its outgoing chief lawyer, Kirsten Hewitt, who is retiring after nearly 25 years with the kitchen and laundry appliance giant based in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Ava Harter, currently the general counsel at Owens Corning, will succeed Kristen Hewitt as chief legal officer at Whirlpool Corp. Photo: Whirlpool Corp

Whirlpool lured Ava Harter away from her general counsel role at Owens Corning to take over as Hewitt’s successor, effective Dec. 1. Her appointment reflects the succession study’s findings that a majority of companies are looking outside their firms when recruiting general counsels and prefer candidates who are already leading legal departments.

“I was surprised at the number of general counsel who were recruited externally,” said Bob Barker, managing partner at BarkerGilmore. “The individuals internally haven’t been developed enough to the point where the CEO and board and C-suite is comfortable with that incumbent taking over the reins.”

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