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MergerQueen

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Road to General Counsel

Post by MergerQueen » Wed Sep 21, 2022 6:56 pm

I'm wondering what the path is like for those who wind up as GCs at Fortune 500 Companies. One would imagine a lot of luck and networking above everything. But what else? Are corporate attorneys favored over litigators? Are companies pedigree whores? YHS only? Drawing distinctions between V10 and V50? Curious how to optimize my CV and start shaking the right hands...

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Lacepiece23

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by Lacepiece23 » Wed Sep 21, 2022 7:02 pm

MergerQueen wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 6:56 pm
I'm wondering what the path is like for those who wind up as GCs at Fortune 500 Companies. One would imagine a lot of luck and networking above everything. But what else? Are corporate attorneys favored over litigators? Are companies pedigree whores? YHS only? Drawing distinctions between V10 and V50? Curious how to optimize my CV and start shaking the right hands...
My wife just spoke with someone who is gunning for it. Here is what he said. Or at least one potential path. He took an inhouse job with a company. Not sure of his credentials but not all that sure (guessing) that school or whatever really matters. I'm up against a lot of in-house counsel as a plaintiffs lawyer and most don't have allstar credentials. Grant it, I'm not in NYC or a major market where I think what you want to do is nearly impossible.

This lends itself to his next point. You have to sacrifice. He drives an hour and a half to a company in the middle of a large state. He does not want to be the permenately. And he views the gig as a complete stepping stone.

He is the GC at said smaller company outside the F 500. He believes that he can leverage his GC experience into a larger company once he networks and a position opens. We shall see if he is right. But seems like a reasonable plan.

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Sep 21, 2022 7:07 pm

Looking through GCs I don't think the YHS matters and in fact I think non-T14s are overrepresented. Seems to suggest the way to top GC is just straight up networking, hard work, and being in the right position at the right time.

LittleRedCorvette

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by LittleRedCorvette » Wed Sep 21, 2022 8:34 pm

Lacepiece23 wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 7:02 pm
MergerQueen wrote:
Wed Sep 21, 2022 6:56 pm
I'm wondering what the path is like for those who wind up as GCs at Fortune 500 Companies. One would imagine a lot of luck and networking above everything. But what else? Are corporate attorneys favored over litigators? Are companies pedigree whores? YHS only? Drawing distinctions between V10 and V50? Curious how to optimize my CV and start shaking the right hands...
My wife just spoke with someone who is gunning for it. Here is what he said. Or at least one potential path. He took an inhouse job with a company. Not sure of his credentials but not all that sure (guessing) that school or whatever really matters. I'm up against a lot of in-house counsel as a plaintiffs lawyer and most don't have allstar credentials. Grant it, I'm not in NYC or a major market where I think what you want to do is nearly impossible.

This lends itself to his next point. You have to sacrifice. He drives an hour and a half to a company in the middle of a large state. He does not want to be the permenately. And he views the gig as a complete stepping stone.

He is the GC at said smaller company outside the F 500. He believes that he can leverage his GC experience into a larger company once he networks and a position opens. We shall see if he is right. But seems like a reasonable plan.
Is it really "grant it"?

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 8:18 am

I'm GC at a start-up, started in Biglaw and then went in-house to a large multinational company before landing this job. My aim is to stay until either the start-up hits a nice exit or I leverage my current experience into a GC position at a larger company.

I see a few main routes to landing in the GC role:
1. Internal promotion. However, since climbing up the corporate ladder is so slow, you need to enter in-house at just under GC level to have a chance, which means you need a lot of experience to score that position. Then it's a matter of experience/politics.
2. Directly from law firms. This usually only happens at senior partner level. I've seen partners (usually corporate side) hop right into GC positions.
3. Start small, like me, and trade up over time.

The school you went to really doesn't matter at the GC consideration stage. It definitely helps you get a leg up at the beginning of your career, but you need to prove that you have the skills to be GC, not just that you were a good law student or good at taking the LSAT. Being GC requires a specific set of skills that only experience grants you.

The firm you work at matters, but not in the way you think. In house positions don't care what your firm's vault ranking is. Rather, they care what experience you've picked up at the firm and what your firm is known for (e.g., a firm is renowned at PE helps you land in-house PE roles). Also, you are more likely to hop into in-house positions at clients, so it matters what your firm's client roster is and your relationship with them.

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 8:36 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 8:18 am
I'm GC at a start-up, started in Biglaw and then went in-house to a large multinational company before landing this job. My aim is to stay until either the start-up hits a nice exit or I leverage my current experience into a GC position at a larger company.

I see a few main routes to landing in the GC role:
1. Internal promotion. However, since climbing up the corporate ladder is so slow, you need to enter in-house at just under GC level to have a chance, which means you need a lot of experience to score that position. Then it's a matter of experience/politics.
2. Directly from law firms. This usually only happens at senior partner level. I've seen partners (usually corporate side) hop right into GC positions.
3. Start small, like me, and trade up over time.

The school you went to really doesn't matter at the GC consideration stage. It definitely helps you get a leg up at the beginning of your career, but you need to prove that you have the skills to be GC, not just that you were a good law student or good at taking the LSAT. Being GC requires a specific set of skills that only experience grants you.

The firm you work at matters, but not in the way you think. In house positions don't care what your firm's vault ranking is. Rather, they care what experience you've picked up at the firm and what your firm is known for (e.g., a firm is renowned at PE helps you land in-house PE roles). Also, you are more likely to hop into in-house positions at clients, so it matters what your firm's client roster is and your relationship with them.
This is good - just two additional nuances based on my limited experience at a law firm working with F500 GCs and witnessing how they turn over. First, if you're going for the internal promotion route AND if the current GC is well-liked, it pays to buddy up and rise to the top of their trusted advisors. GCs that are doing well will often get a lot of input when picking their replacement. They may also look outside the business, but networking with F500 GCs in hopes that one will look to you as a replacement is not an easy task.

Second, if you're going from either of the in-house routes (up or from outside), it pays to learn the business and how to manage. GCs are not hired for their legal chops (though they should be excellent) - they are hired to manage a large internal law firm. If a GC gets fired it's not because (s)he missed a rule against perpetuities issue, but rather because (s)he is at the top of an inefficient, costly legal group (whether it's their own fault or not). You can trade up within the business or from outside by building a strong reputation for sound management and budgetary practices. I've seen people pulled in from smaller companies and promoted internally for precisely this reason.

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 9:42 am

1. Internal promotion. However, since climbing up the corporate ladder is so slow, you need to enter in-house at just under GC level to have a chance, which means you need a lot of experience to score that position. Then it's a matter of experience/politics.
2. Directly from law firms. This usually only happens at senior partner level. I've seen partners (usually corporate side) hop right into GC positions.
3. Start small, like me, and trade up over time.
This is spot on. Corporate is definitely the way to go, IMO. If you're able to make partner or counsel at your firm, that can help you go in-house at a more senior level. You can work your way up from the bottom but it requires a lot of luck.

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nealric

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by nealric » Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:19 pm

A common theme I've seen from people who inhabit the C-suite is willingness to jump around in search of the next great opportunity. Geographic flexibility tends to help a lot. Specific to the GC role, most people I've seen get the gig:

1) Have some sort of biglaw experience (usually some flavor of transactional, and usually at least to Sr. Associate level)
2) Went into an in-house role at at least AGC level, or were quickly promoted from Sr. Counsel to AGC. You probably want to avoid going in-house at a lower level (more than two tiers below GC) if GC is your goal.
3) Got a fairly wide variety of experience in their career (i.e. took roles that gave them exposure to various practice areas- not just doing M&A the whole time)

Once you have that foundation, you can either hustle within your Megacorp (requires lots of luck and political savvy) or you can job hop your way to bigger and better titles. Whatever you do, it's very helpful to get board of directors exposure. A couple of examples of title progression I've seen:

V50 Sr. Associate -> F500 In house Sr. Counsel -> V20 Counsel ->v20 Partner (lateraled to different firm) -> F1000 GC
v50 Sr. Associate - > F500 In house Sr. Counsel -> ACG Internal Promotion -> GC at Startup -> GC at previous F500 company where they were AGC

There's no guarantee to any of this. If you stick around at a megacorp, you may get passed over in favor of someone else for that bump up. If you drop down to a smaller company for a bigger title, you may get stuck at smaller companies (especially if that smaller company you jump to doesn't do well).

As for schools, I don't think it really matters except to the extent that most people who get decent in-house gigs have biglaw on their resume, which is much easier from a T20. I have noticed some over-representation with HYS at the top though.

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trebekismyhero

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by trebekismyhero » Thu Sep 22, 2022 4:30 pm

Agree generally with nealric and others. I went in-house from big law to a public company role as corporate counsel. I enjoyed the people and work, but internal promotion (particularly at public companies) is a long haul. So then moved to an AGC role at a different company after a few years reporting directly to GC. At both companies, big law was a plus if not essential for most positions. School doesn't matter. I have worked with colleagues who went to Yale/Stanford and others who went to T2 schools. Same for the GCs. And vast majority come from corporate backgrounds.

Where it does look like school and credentials matter is at the very top of F100 list. Those seem to be populated with more of the HYS, Supreme Court clerk, Solicitor General's office now GC types. Otherwise, key is to be willing to move around and/or being in the right place at the right time.

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Sackboy

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by Sackboy » Fri Sep 23, 2022 6:12 pm

trebekismyhero wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 4:30 pm
Otherwise, key is to be willing to move around and/or being in the right place at the right time.
Folks don't like to acknowledge it, because it's not a fun thought, but this is a huge part of success in house. You could join an office as an AGC where the DGC and GC stay for 20 years, and you stay as a AGC for 20 years. Or, you could join and the DGC leaves 3 years later, you get promoted to DGC, and the GC leaves 2 years later, and you get promoted to GC.

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by hangtime813 » Fri Sep 23, 2022 11:52 pm

Being GC anywhere (other than a company you are a founder/co-founder of) seems very difficult to get for most attorneys, even with biglaw experience. To echo the above, a ton of it really just comes down to luck.

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Re: Road to General Counsel

Post by run26.2 » Mon Sep 26, 2022 10:50 am

Sackboy wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 6:12 pm
trebekismyhero wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 4:30 pm
Otherwise, key is to be willing to move around and/or being in the right place at the right time.
Folks don't like to acknowledge it, because it's not a fun thought, but this is a huge part of success in house. You could join an office as an AGC where the DGC and GC stay for 20 years, and you stay as a AGC for 20 years. Or, you could join and the DGC leaves 3 years later, you get promoted to DGC, and the GC leaves 2 years later, and you get promoted to GC.
Agree with this. It is hard to layout a fool-proof plan for becoming a GC. Having people leave after you've done great things helps a lot. Also, not having the organization change practices helps -- some organizations start off favoring internal promotion, but as they grow prefer to recruit from outside.

In terms of the trading up point made earlier, it is certainly possible to do it but you also have to be careful how you chart your course. Taking a GC job at a stagnating company or one that doesn't give you transferrable skills can impede progress. Not all GC jobs are created equally and some can be dead end jobs.

ETA: nealric's post is solid overall.

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