GC Searches Veer Away From Internal Hires, Upending In-House Promotion Tracks

About two-thirds of companies fill general counsel positions with external candidates, which shows a changing trend in in-house legal department hiring practices. The reasoning typically cited for searching for candidates outside the company is that counsel already in-house lack leadership skills or business acumen, according to John Gilmore of BarkerGilmore, a company that assists companies in finding general counsel. 

Gilmore advises that companies should not “select a successor based on the resume alone” as a general counsel requires leading the department, and  “gravitas, judgment and EQ” isn’t always something a candidate can learn.  

According to a study from the Russell Reynolds Associates found that 61 percent of Fortune 500 companies went outside the company the fill the general counsel position in 2023. Back in 2023, half of the Fortune 500 companies filled general counsel positions internally. BarkerGilmore’s “Aspiring General Counsel Report” from earlier this year also backs this trend, finding that 71% of general counsel jobs were filled from outside the company.

The Russell Reynolds report also notes that the trend might be influenced by the addition of nonlegal duties to the top legal job, such as public affairs, communications and government affairs, adding up to the position requiring “six times more responsibility than any of their direct reports, making the step up for internal candidates from deputy to GC a much bigger gap to bridge.”

“GCs are increasingly seen as true enterprise leaders, trusted to guide companies through the choppy waters of war, politics, inflation, reputational risk, and AI,” the Russell Reynold study reports. 

Are you interested in more advice about in-house legal department hiring trends?  Read more in this law.com article.

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