November 3, 2020 – Succession to a general counsel role is a critical accomplishment for many legal professionals. However, little research exists to understand the path to position attainment from those that have achieved the role of general counsel.
A new research report by legal-focused executive search firm BarkerGilmore aims to contribute to this conversation by delving into the path sitting general counsel have taken and the professional development they have received. BarkerGilmore has released its “2020 General Counsel Succession Report.” The data was collected from a random sample of in-house counsel throughout the U.S. via an online survey.
The report found that over half (56 percent) of general counsel promoted from within their organization report having hired an executive coach. Promoted general counsel that previously hired an executive coach were more likely to be promoted from within (50 percent) than those that had not hired an executive coach (26 percent). Seventy-one percent found the coaching to be extremely valuable (37 percent) or valuable (34 percent).
BarkerGilmore’s report also found that professional development received by promoted general counsel and those recruited from outside the organization is very similar. Promoted general counsel were developed by their organization through expanded scope of responsibility (63 percent), increased C-suite and board exposure (53 percent), leadership training (39 percent), and stretch assignments (37 percent). At their previous employer, recruited general counsel experienced an expanded scope of responsibilities (51 percent), increased C-suite and board exposure (44 percent), leadership training (35 percent) and stretch assignments (29 percent) were the top reported development opportunities.
Outgoing General Counsel
BarkerGilmore also found that 19 percent of outgoing general counsel stayed within the organization in some capacity after their successor was promoted. Of those general counsel who stayed on, 67 percent of them stayed on for over a year. The majority of promoted general counsel whose predecessor stayed on in some capacity, post-promotion, felt that the outgoing general counsel’s impact made their job easier (53 percent). The outgoing general counsel was less likely to stay when an external replacement was hired (nine percent). If they did stay on, again, it was likely (53 percent) they stayed on for a year or more. Recruited general counsel were less likely to feel the outgoing general counsel staying on in some capacity made their job easier (33 percent).
Recruited General Counsel Previous Experience
Twenty-seven percent of recruited general counsel learned about their role from an executive recruiter, followed closely by 25 percent that were contacted by a friend or colleague, and 21 percent who were recruited directly by the company. Sixty-five percent of recruited general counsel had previous experience in the same industry as their new role. Of those that did not have experience in their current role’s industry, most work in the industrial and manufacturing (38 percent), technology (23 percent) or consumer (17 percent) sectors. Those with prior industry experience were most likely to work in the healthcare and life sciences (30 percent) sector.
Only 22 percent of promoted general counsel served as an interim general counsel prior to their permanent appointment. Most (60 percent) were made aware of their status as a potential successor a year or less before the promotion. Promoted general counsel were likely to be in their prior role for ten years or less, respectively (zero to two years at 29 percent, three to five years at 35 percent, six-10 years at 33 percent, and more than 11 years at three percent).
Finding General Counsels
To assist in its search efforts, BarkerGilmore utilizes an advisory board of 12 former general counsel and chief compliance officers. This team, many of whom have served in Fortune 500 companies, is charged with providing advisory and leadership development services, complementing the firm’s core recruiting business. These consultants offer the search firm’s clients access to experience that can help them to optimize their organizations and accelerate profits.
General Counsel: A New Pathway to CEO
The general counsel role has been vital for companies maintaining an international presence. “The role and stature of the general counsel position has expanded globally,” said Paul Williams, a partner in MLA’s Chicago office.
Bob Barker is co-founder and chair of the industrial practice at BarkerGilmore. He brings more than three decades of executive search and international business experience to his clients. Mr. Barker has managed general counsel and chief compliance officer engagements for mid-sized to Fortune 500 companies including those in the industrial, financial, energy, technology, and consumer industries.
John Gilmore is co-founder and managing partner of BarkerGilmore. With over three decades of experience in executive search, he has developed deep relationships with general counsel and C-suite leaders across the country. With an institutional understanding of how in-house legal and compliance departments function most effectively, Mr. Gilmore has, according to clients and colleagues, earned a reputation as one of the top executive search consultants for general counsel and chief compliance officer placement.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media