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General Counsel Succession Planning

Succession planning is among the hottest topics in today’s boardrooms.

Not having a succession plan can hurt companies especially if they are in hotly contested environments.

The lack of a succession plan can tarnish the standing of the business with analysts and the general public, weaken its financial position in the marketplace, and colour shareholders’ perceptions of the company.

Nowhere is the need for succession planning greater than with the General Counsel position.

Given the new responsibilities GCs face, the increased expectations of today’s CEOs, and the challenges of the global environment, the need to develop a solid general counsel succession plan is imperative.

Never Too Soon to Start

Ideally, it is a good idea to start looking for a successor as soon as you settle in your new role as it will take some time to determine the criteria for the profile, identify strong internal candidates, help choose the successor, and prepare him or her to take over.

Among the keys to creating a solid succession plan is getting Board members and senior executives to buy in and contribute to the process.

It is important to get them to understand the benefits of GC succession planning and to position the effort as not an expense but an investment.

Developing a succession plan takes time and effort. But there are ways you can stay on top of the initiative, speed up the selection process, and streamline the transition.

Below are four ways you can stay on top of GC succession planning:

Start ASAP to define needs

As the driver of the succession plan, you can start the process by first defining your role as GC and determining the company’s specific needs. This document can also serve as a template to select and (formally or informally) interview candidates.

Determine Criteria

Determining the criteria for a GC successor is, perhaps, the most crucial and challenging part of succession planning. Sometimes, a candidate meets the existing GC’s criteria, but the rest of senior management think he lacks the gravitas to lead the legal function.

Below are some criteria to keep in mind when assessing internal candidates.

In addition to being battle-tested and proven, he or she must:

• Be business-centric. He or she needs to know the company’s business thoroughly and has a proven ability to be a business enabler whilst assessing risks.

• Know the company’s limitations and exposures, and the upsides and downsides to various potential moves that can impact the organisation adversely.

• Be multicultural or have worked for a multi-jurisdictional organisation.

• Be a quick learner, since he or she may have to get up to speed quickly when it comes to regulations and requirements in different jurisdictions.

• Be knowledgeable in the current hot topics – cybersecurity, privacy, IP, compliance – as well as in the niche company’s legal matters.

• Possess excellent leadership and management skills

These are just some of the key criteria to look for in a future GC. The trick is finding a candidate that fits company’s needs and culture, plus has the intelligence and bearing expected of a general counsel.

Engage the HR department

A best practice for selecting the next GC is to first benchmark internal candidates, then develop a short list of potential successors working in partnership with your HR director.

Consult 360

You might think a candidate ideal for the GC position, however it is the rest of the senior managers, the Board, and the global legal team that will have to work with him or her. It is important to find out what their needs and expectations are and work with them to refine the candidate list.

Prepare for the transition

As the current GC you can do a lot to support your future successor in their transition to this senior role. You are in the best position to ensure that your selection gets the experiences and exposures he or she needs to excel at the position. It is important to give them opportunities to have meaningful interactions with the Board, deal with governance matters, contribute to the company’s future growth plans, build relationships with key stakeholders and handles some immediate tasks that mirror the GC position.

An Ongoing Process

GC succession planning is not a one-time thing, it is an ongoing process that is never finished – the plan needs to be updated regularly to continue to match the internal candidate’s capabilities with the company’s needs.

Today’s companies must have their houses in order to survive and thrive. As the company’s general counsel, it’s never too soon to start planning for a successor.