The General Counsel Role
The General Counsel is the trusted legal counsel and advisor to the CEO as well as the primary point of contact with global regulators, independent directors, stakeholders and business partners. The General Counsel anticipates and mitigates legal, regulatory and reputational risk for the company in addition to managing the in-house legal and compliance function. The person holding the General Counsel role is expected to advise on profound company issues that have wide-ranging and critical implications for the company.
What Capabilities Hiring Organizations and Executive Search Firms Look for in a General Counsel
- Executive search consultants and headhunters look for General Counsel candidates who can proactively identify and defuse risk, and who understand how regulators think.
- Aspiring General Counsels must have a multicultural perspective; speak several languages; and have working knowledge of differences in laws and regulations across countries in order to identify where local business customs and the extraterritorial reach of US and other national laws may contradict one another.
- Those seeking a General Counsel position must have unimpeachable ethics and integrity; exceptional communication skills; confidence; and independent judgment, as well as the ability to lead the in-house legal and compliance function.
- It is also critical that the General Counsel has credibility with stakeholders, regulators and business partners.
In the mid to late 1990s, a period characterized by mergers, acquisitions and IPOs, general counsels were often Wall Street or Silicon Valley attorneys who had experience with investment bankers. Because of subsequent scandals including Enron, and the advent of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, today's General Counsel job holder is more likely to have been trained in Washington at the SEC, Justice, Treasury, or similarly high-profile federal agency, in addition to a world-class law firm. Given the complexity of today's global business landscape, international experience is often a requirement. Management and directors, and therefore executive headhunters, are often attracted to attorneys who already hold a position as General Counsel of a public company, and General Counsel candidates are expected to have superb academic credentials; experience working closely with Boards of Directors; experience with corporate governance; experience dealing with shareholder initiatives and litigation; and, perhaps, a judicial clerkship. In highly regulated industries such as financial services and life-sciences, executive recruiters will almost always give preference for the General Counsel job to candidates with experience in the same sector. In less highly regulated sectors such as consumer and industrial, the candidate's experience may lie within any sector.
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