General Counsel succession planning – Rules for building lasting leadership

Author Hayden Gordine
May 14, 2024

Succession planning is no longer limited to just CEO positions; it has become essential for key management positions across various functions within organisations. This broader approach to succession planning acknowledges the critical role that key management positions play in driving organisational performance and mitigates the risks associated with vacancies in these roles. Given the increased and more central responsibilities of the General Counsel (GC), succession planning is critical for ensuring continuity and stability within the legal department and the leadership team.

Succession planning for General Counsels (GCs) can involve preparing for various scenarios, ranging from planned successions due to retirement or promotion to emergency successions necessitated by sudden departures or incapacitation.

Here are steps you can take to develop a robust succession plan for the GC role:

  1. Identify key competencies and qualifications: Start by clearly outlining the key competencies, skills, and qualifications necessary for the General Counsel role. This should include legal expertise, leadership abilities, strategic thinking, communication skills, and a deep understanding of the company’s industry and operations.
  2. Identify potential successors: Evaluate the current talent within the legal department and identify individuals who have the potential to step into the General Counsel role in the future. Consider factors such as skills, experience, performance, leadership potential, and alignment with the company’s values and culture.
  3. Consider external candidates: While internal candidates should be the primary focus of succession planning, it’s also important to consider external candidates who may bring fresh perspectives and experiences to the role of General Counsel.
  4. Development plans for potential successors: Once potential successors have been identified, create individualized development plans to help them acquire the necessary skills and experiences to prepare for the General Counsel role. This may involve providing stretch assignments, mentorship opportunities, training programs, and exposure to various aspects of the legal function and business operations.
  5. Cross-training and rotational assignments: Encourage cross-training and rotational assignments within the legal department to broaden the skills and experiences of potential successors. This can help them develop a more comprehensive understanding of the company’s legal needs and challenges.
  6. Leadership development programs: Invest in leadership development programs for potential successors to enhance their leadership capabilities, strategic thinking, decision-making skills, and ability to navigate complex legal and business issues.
  7. Mentorship and coaching: Pair potential successors with experienced mentors or coaches within the organisation, including current or former General Counsels, to provide guidance, feedback, and support as they prepare for future leadership roles.
  8. Succession plan review and evaluation: Regularly review and evaluate the succession plan to ensure it remains aligned with the company’s evolving needs and objectives. Update the plan as needed based on changes in leadership, organisational priorities, or the development of new talent within the legal department.
  9. Contingency planning: Develop contingency plans in case of unexpected vacancies in the General Counsel position. Identify interim leaders and backup successors who can step in temporarily to ensure continuity of legal leadership during transitions.
  10. Communicate the succession plan: Ensure that key stakeholders, including senior leadership, board members, and potential successors, are aware of the succession plan and understand their roles and responsibilities in its execution.
  11. Monitor and measure progress: Continuously monitor the progress of potential successors and track their development against established goals and milestones. Use performance metrics and feedback mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of the succession plan and make adjustments as necessary.

While many companies still do not plan for successors until the need arises, a successful GC thinks about the future and has the ability to identify, motivate, prepare, and retain their successors.

By implementing a comprehensive succession plan, organisations and general Counsel can effectively groom future leaders and mitigate the risks associated with leadership transitions in the legal department.

As always, please reach out and get in touch anytime if you or your organisation may benefit from Taylor Root’s specialist legal search and recruitment services or if you are looking for your next career move.

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