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More experienced lawyers less likely to aspire to be GC at current company

In-house lawyers with more experience were less likely to aspire to be general counsel at their current company than those with less experience, according to a new report.

user iconTony Zhang 08 December 2020 Corporate Counsel
Rob Barker
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Legal and compliance executive search firm BarkerGilmore has released its Aspiring General Counsel Report 2020 that investigates the path legal counsel take to become senior legal leaders at the general-counsel level. 

The data was collected from a random sample of in-house counsel throughout the US via an online survey administered in July 2020.

A total of 532 surveys were fully completed: 241 by general counsel and chief legal officers and 291 by aspiring general counsel.


It was revealed that 49 per cent of respondents aspire to become a general counsel at their current company versus 51 per cent that do not. Those with more experience based on their JD year were less likely to aspire to be general counsel at their current company than those with less experience.

Figures revealed that lawyers with JD year ranges across 1981-2005 had a majority (over 50 per cent) that didn’t aspire to be GC at their current company whilst respondents in the JD range of 2006-2011 was the only segment that had the majority (57 per cent) aspiring to be GC at their current company.

“With half of counsel aspiring to become a general counsel at their current company and half aspiring elsewhere, it was interesting to see that the more experienced counsel had the less likely they were to aspire at their current company. As we continue the series, we hope the insights from our work provide meaningful insights to the legal community,” Bob Barker, founding partner of BarkerGilmore LLC said.

It was also revealed that 35 per cent of aspiring general counsel have hired an executive coach. This builds on the findings that in-house lawyers who have hired executive coaches for themselves may be more likely to be promoted internally. Of those that have hired an executive coach, 79 per cent of aspiring general counsel found the coaching either “extremely valuable” (35 per cent) or “valuable” (44 per cent).

Most aspiring general counsel respondents are currently deputy general counsel (29 per cent), senior counsel (20 per cent), or associate general counsel (17 per cent). Thirty-eight per cent of aspiring general counsel respondents earned their JD between 1990-1999, followed closely by 36 per cent between 2000-2005. 

Fifty-four per cent of aspiring general counsel are male and 46 per cent are female.

The study also determined that most prospective general counsel work at publicly traded companies, with 73 per cent of respondents selecting that option. The top industries represented by aspiring general counsel are healthcare/life sciences (22 per cent), financial (21 per cent), industrial and manufacturing (19 per cent), and technology (16 per cent).

Before they took on their current position, 23 per cent of aspiring GCs said they learned of the job from executive recruiters or friends, with smaller numbers of them citing job postings, direct recruiters and internal promotions. This also builds on previous research that sheds light on how general counsel who are recruited externally come by their new vocational paths and also the circumstances that give rise to such opportunities.

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