How General Counsel can earn a seat on the board

Author Georgia Morgan-Wynne
April 6, 2023

As a General Counsel, you have a unique perspective on your company’s operations, risks and opportunities and you’re a key advisor to the executive team. Yet, many General Counsels are overlooked for positions in the boardroom and can’t leverage their seat on the table.

Six top tips on how to earn a seat in the boardroom

To secure that board seat, in-house lawyers need to focus on rebranding and reframing their value proposition which requires building executive presence, demonstrating leadership and delivering strategic thinking. It is worth investing time to understand the requirements of sitting on boards, to decide if a board position on a corporate board is a route you want to take.

Build a strong reputation

To secure a board seat in your current organisation, you need to be seen as a trusted advisor and a leader who can add value to strategic decision-making as part of corporate governance. This requires building a strong reputation for yourself by consistently delivering commercially focused legal advice, finding solutions to problems outside of your core legal remit and collaborating effectively across the business with corporate directors, corporate counsels and the senior management.

Understand the business and display financial acumen

To be an effective board member, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the company’s business model, financials and relevant industry trends. When it comes to building your financial acumen, working closely with the CFO on monitoring key financial metrics and staying up to date on relevant accounting and financial regulations is key to understand strategic decision-making making in corporate organisations.

Network strategically

Most board opportunities are filled through networks. To get on the radar of board members and other influential stakeholders, it’s key to be visible and active in various industry networks. This might involve attending industry events, joining relevant associations and enrolling in board governance courses or mentoring programs.

Showcase and develop your leadership skills

Board members are looking for individuals with strong leadership skills who can provide strategic guidance and oversight. By managing your legal team effectively, working closely together with other departments, and taking on high-profile projects within your company, you’re showcasing your specific skillset You can also consider enrolling in leadership courses or further education programs to develop your leadership skills and demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning.

Serve on non-profit advisory broads or early-stage company boards

Non-profit board service is a helpful step towards understanding governance processes and opens up networking opportunities. Advising start-up companies is also an excellent first step in acquiring board-level expertise. In addition, being an adviser for early-stage companies on the side is a great way for you to really promote your own brand among large public companies and can be a differentiator for promotion to the next level or C-suite within large companies.

Prepare your profile

Reviewing your LinkedIn profile and tweaking your CV specifically for board applications is a great start for earning your board position. Especially highlight your leadership skills, expertise, key achievements, previous legal functions any relevant board experience that you’ve gained.

By positioning yourself as a strategic leader with a deep understanding of the business, strong leadership skills, and financial acumen, you can set yourself up for a successful transition to the board. You will need to proactively seek out opportunities internally and externally and securing a board seat is a highly competitive process, so be patient, persistent, and focused in your efforts.

To earn a seat on the board, in-house lawyers should build a strong reputation as a trusted advisor for the business, understand the business and display financial acumen and network strategically. They always need to rebrand themselves, demonstrate their high leadership skills and showcase their experience when it comes to strategic decision-making.

Five reasons why General Counsel are great board members

The role of the General Counsel has evolved significantly in recent years, and as a result, they have become increasingly attractive candidates for the board of directors. Here are five reasons why your next board director should be a General Counsel.

In their General Counsel roles, they have gained an in-depth knowledge of all legal and regulatory matters, which is critical for boards that must navigate complex legal and regulatory environments. By having a General Counsel on the board, you can ensure that the board is better equipped to make informed decisions on these matters and support the board in all legal issues required.

Risk management and compliance

With the increasing focus on risk management, compliance, GDPR and cybersecurity in today’s corporate landscape, having a General Counsel on the board can be incredibly valuable. They can provide insights into legal and regulatory risks and help the board develop strategies to mitigate them.

Business strategy

General Counsels often have a broad view of the business, which enables them to provide a unique perspective on business strategy. They have a great understanding of how legal and regulatory issues impact the business and as a trusted business partner, General Counsels help to shape strategy and decision-making by providing legal insights and guidance.

Crisis management

In times of crisis, having a General Counsel on the board can be invaluable. They are experienced in dealing with crises, and their knowledge of legal and regulatory matters can help the board make informed decisions quickly.

Board diversity

Board diversity has become increasingly important in recent years as companies seek to reflect the diversity of their stakeholders and the communities in which they operate. A diverse board can provide a range of perspectives and experiences, which can help improve decision-making, reduce groupthink or echo chambers and ultimately drive better business outcomes. Having a General Counsel on the board can help increase diversity. General Counsels come from a variety of backgrounds and can bring a unique perspective to the boardroom. By increasing diversity, boards can make better decisions that reflect the needs and interests of all stakeholders.

General Counsels have a unique skill set that can be incredibly valuable to boards and by bringing in a General Counsel as a board director, companies can benefit from their expertise in legal and regulatory matters, risk management, business strategy, crisis management, and board diversity.

If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch with Georgia Morgan-Wynne or one of our other specialised legal consultants. Alternatively, if you’re looking to hire a legal position or your next legal job please do reach out to us.

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