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Want to Succeed As General Counsel? Boards and CEOs Are Looking For Business Leaders Who Happen To Have Legal Experience

As corporate clients continue to work to reduce legal costs, general counsels are expected to take on a new role in addition to that of top lawyer: business leader.

Indeed, many general counsels are now being hired for their “business judgment as well as legal skills.”  When recruiting Julie Sweet from Cravath Swaine, the then-Accenture CEO, recruited her by saying that “law is not rocket science…I am looking for a business leader with legal experience.” As Corporate Counsel Magazine  recognized, “legal chiefs [are now reporting] that the legal part of their role comes second to understanding and effectively influencing the business.”  

GCs who successfully show business-savvy have had their roles expanded.  For example, after Sweet came in as GC, and demonstrated her business skills to the board, she was promoted to CEO of Accenture.  
Similarly, Hertz’s General Counsel, Tom Sabatino, was given the additional role of Chief Administrative Officer, with responsibility for legal, compliance, human resources, labor relations, communications, government affairs, community relations, real estate, facilities, and security.  Sabatino was given an expanded role in recognition of his skills as a “senior advisor and business partner.”  (Sabatino was then recruited to Aetna as Executive Vice President and General Counsel and named to the Executive Committee.)

As a result of this trend, general counsels are increasingly working to bring data-driven metrics and additional efficiency to their legal departments.  Indeed, as Julie Sweet mentioned, her goal for Accenture’s legal department was to “organize Accenture’s legal and compliance function and build legal professionals’ skills in order to optimally contribute to Accenture’s businesses and growth strategies” and one of her strategies was to roll out data analytics so that metrics on spending and diversity could be tracked.  
As this trend continues, we are increasingly seeing general counsels add robust legal analytics programs to track their spending and show business value.  

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