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Gaining ground: General counsel hiring trends favor women, minorities

By Bennett Loudon, BridgeTower Media Newswires

A new analysis of trends in general counsel hiring by nationally recognized legal recruiting and consulting firm BarkerGilmore shows the majority of new GCs appointed in the past year were women and minorities.

Every year, about 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies appoint new top legal executives, according to the report compiled by the Fairport, N.Y.-based firm. In 2020, 44 lawyers were appointed, compared to 56 in 2019.

Although the latest numbers show lower turnover last year, BarkerGilmore found that 12 of the Fortune 500 companies are between GCs, creating a strong 2021 market for talent.

BarkerGilmore also studied the path leading to the top legal position. Among the trend: A higher percentage of appointments came from outside the company and an increased percentage of those hires were women.

The overall percentage of women GCs in the Fortune 500 increased slightly to 34 percent in 2020, up from 33 percent in 2019, 28 percent in 2018 and 26 percent in 2017.

Women are slowly gaining ground, but men were more likely to be promoted from within.

“Succession planning and building diverse teams with high-caliber future leaders continue to be a high priority for sitting GCs,” BarkerGilmore partner John Gilmore wrote in an article about the findings.

Other key findings of the BarkerGilmore analysis include:

  • 44 Fortune 500 companies appointed a new general counsel or chief legal officer in 2020. Two of those were interim hires.
  • Half of the 2020 appointments were internal promotions.
  • 23 of the newly appointed GCs were women and/or minorities, accounting for 52 percent of all appointments last year.
  • 19 women (43 percent) were newly appointed; seven were promoted from within and 12 came from outside their companies.
  • 13 of the newly appointed women replaced men.
  • Of the internal successors, 14 percent of the women and 13 percent of the men were promoted to GC within two years of joining the company.
  • The average tenure before internal promotion to GC was nine years for women and 11 years for men.

The data also was used to study the question: “What does it take to become a Fortune 500 general counsel?”

“One cannot stereotype the journey to general counsel by skill set or career path — and that’s something we’ve been saying for decades,” Gilmore wrote. “Appointees come from corporations, law firms and government agencies, representing myriad practice areas including corporate law, labor and employment, litigation, regulatory and IP,” he wrote.

Gilmore said the traits that lead to becoming a GC are not found on a resume.

They include “gravitas, establishing trusted relationships, leadership experience, success working outside of their core practice area, performance on high-stakes matters, mentorship, access to the board and cultural fit,” he noted.