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Survey says: Aspiring GCs must develop skills, experience.

Byline: Rich Steeves

These days, GCs are better off having broad brows than broad shoulders, considering the number of hats they are required to wear. But in addition to working out at the gym and the library, aspiring GCs should also put in some time at the local business school and hang out with the information technology department as well, a new study suggests.

The latest study from BarkerGilmore, "GCs: Adding Value to the C-Suite," finds that GCs need to have cybersecurity knowledge and business acumen as part of their roles as trusted adviser to the C-suite. It also articulates the need for GC succession planning and demonstrates that former GCs can be valuable members of boards of directors.


FURTHER READING: Survey shows law school grads favor aggressive tuition-lowering tactics Study looks at the importance of GC succession for corporations Master class: How to pass the test of being a GC in the first year GCs talk providing strategic value to the organization through the legal department ______________________________________________________________________________________

"Business acumen is critical," says Robert Barker, managing partner at BarkerGilmore, "Historically, general counsel were focused on getting all the legal information, so they have to change their perspective to be more business knowledgeable. They need the financial acumen to understand how to read the financial reports to they can add value in more ways."

In fact, 19 percent of survey respondents said that GCs should have more "knowledge of our industry," while 16 percent said that GCs should know more about the global business and 13 percent said they should know more about mergers and acquisitions.

But, in addition to business acumen, the study showed that general counsel should also be on the cutting edge of risk forecasting, especially hi-tech areas of risk like cybersecurity. A whopping 67 percent of respondents said that GCs should have more expertise in the area of cybersecurity, and 39 percent cited social media risk as an area of concern as well.

"It requires a 360 degree view on risk," says John Gilmore, managing partner at BarkerGilmore. "GCs live in paranoia of keeping a company in good shape. They want to be a business enabler and understand risk. They want to be able to come up with solutions to make sure the business meets its objectives."

And, increasingly, general counsel play a larger role in helping businesses achieve those objectives. The study showed that GCs are wearing multiple hats, including those of chief compliance officer, chief risk officer and corporate secretary.

"Human resources is another role that quite a few GCs have taken over in terms of areas of responsibilities," says Barker. "More and more GCs are becoming chief administrative officers as well. Once they have the legal aspect down, those that have the business acumen can take on other critical roles."

But, once general counsel have gathered this acumen and served their companies to the best of their abilities, there does come a time when they move on to other things (including retirement). Thus, it's important for companies to have a succession plan in place to smooth the transition to a new GC.

"Good succession planning means the GC has an eye on bringing in high-quality individuals who could someday be in that role. Some of the better GCs have multiple people in mind for succession planning, so there might not be just one heir apparent. The best take an active role, pushing their people outside of their normal practice areas," explains Gilmore. And, though many GCs and top executives take a close look at internal candidates, the study shows that 90 percent of those surveyed also take a look at external candidates as well.

Once a GC has left the big chair, a possible career trajectory could end up with him or her taking a seat on a board of directors. And, according to the study, some former GCs do have skills that would make them valuable board members.

"Attorneys are trained to evaluate risk and ask good questions. The role of a board member is to protect shareholder interests and, based on their training, GCs can be effective in that role," says Barker. According to the study, 88 percent of respondents agreed that GCs added value to board discussions.

For more on the study, click here.
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Publication:Inside Counsel Breaking News
Date:May 21, 2015
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