How to Find the Right General Counsel Candidate for Your Executive Team – Part II

It’s critical to think through what you “must” have vs. what you would “like” to have in a GC candidate.

NOW LOOK AT THE SOFT SKILLS

1. Management skills.
Management skills encompass both hard skills and soft skills and cannot be captured on paper. A resume can show whether someone has managed a team and how many they have managed, but deeper questioning and reference checking is required to truly understand if the candidate’s management style is just an “open door policy” or whether they have actively hired, evaluated, grown and mentored a team.

“Dig deep in the one-on-one interview process to assess real-world situations and provide some context regarding the candidates’ ability to take a legal concept and translate it into business.”

Once that assessment has been made, there should be an evaluation of the person’s management style to determine whether his or her style will align with your corporate philosophy, your business model and your existing C-suite.

2. Business orientation.
Leaders almost always want a GC with a business orientation. This skill set can be vague and can have different meanings for each CEO. For some, it means a candidate who has functional non-legal business experience. For others, it is a candidate with an MBA. Still others believe it means the candidate has “street smarts.” Dig deep in the one-on-one interview process to assess real-world situations and provide some context regarding the candidates’ ability to take a legal concept and translate it into business.

“A prospective GC should be prepared and fully comfortable engaging in the business realm with his/her business partners, particularly where legal issues intersect with business operations and vice versa,” says A.B. Cruz III, executive vice president and GC of Emergent BioSolutions. “A GC’s understanding of the company’s business(es) is paramount. The GC and legal team’s goals and objectives must be aligned with, and supportive of company business objectives. All legal advice and counsel provided by the GC and legal team must be made in the business context.”

3. Gravitas.
I liken gravitas to former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Gravitas is a nebulous quality. When they walk into the room, they look, sound, act and encompass the sentiment. It can only be discovered through multiple interactions with a candidate. How does he/she manage up and does he/she place that same importance in managing down? Does he/she command a room, garner respect and ooze credibility?

4. Leadership.
“In an age of unique cross-border challenges and inevitable crises, GCs must be leaders—they must personify an enterprise-wide insistence to good governance,” says Suzanne Rich Folsom, General Counsel and Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, at U.S. Steel. “The GC’s very presence must be a constant reminder of the company’s unwavering commitment to best practices, and to the goal of transparency. As I’m speaking to a candidate, I would ask myself how confident am I that this person can handle the legal and compliance burdens that could overwhelm the company. Can this person help us navigate a specific crisis and lead us out from under this issue. In short, is this lawyer a leader?”

Hiring a GC is much more art than science. A carefully planned and executed search will yield a successful GC who is the best match for your organization.


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