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

As a chief executive, the day-to-day leadership of your organization is a top priority. Directing company vision and strategy is all-encompassing and requires the support of a strong C-Suite. Part of this support inevitably comes from your top legal advisor, the general counsel (GC). If you are contemplating a GC hire—whether for the first time, your current GC is leaving, or you are a new CEO building out your team—considering the following points during the hiring process will help provide the best outcome.

Start by having a clear vision of what you want in a GC. If you have strong ideas about how this person will fit into your organization, the search will run more smoothly and the best hire will be made. Will he/she be a part of the C-Suite or sit one level down? The more seasoned candidates will expect to be sitting with the C-Suite and to be a part of the executive team.

“Start by having a clear vision of what you want in a GC.”

Will they be titled as an executive vice president or a senior vice president? This may appear to be a minor difference, but we have seen candidates decline to be considered for the role if the GC position is not an equivalent level to the CFO, COO, etc. Top candidates tend to feel that the level of the role sends a message up to the C-Suite and down to the legal team and business partners about the value of legal within an organization.

Consider who the GC will report to within the executive team. Some candidates are apprehensive about reporting to the CFO. A true top-level GC will want to report to and work directly with the CEO.

“For a GC position in a public company, prudent corporate governance, best advice, best practices and lessons learned show that the best course is to have the GC report directly to the CEO as the top executive of the company and as a member of the company’s senior leadership team,” says A.B. Cruz III, executive vice president and GC of Emergent BioSolutions.

Think about your relationship to your GC. Will he/she be your consigliere, acting as a true business partner and advisor? Or, will you reach out to him/her only when there is a problem? Understanding your relationship will play a significant role in determining where your GC fits into your leadership team.

Once you understand how the GC fits into your organization, you will be able to properly direct HR to find the right legal counsel for you and your organization.