- On February 9, 2020
The classic path to getting the general counsel spot is to attend a top 20 school, train 5+ years in corporate securities at a leading law firm, and then go in-house. Early responsibilities should include SEC, M&A, and equity plans. Responsibilities should broaden over time to include commercial, compliance, and HR. Additionally, candidates should have direct reports, manage budgets, and help companies scale. Late stage private companies usually want a GC who have taken prior companies through successful exits like M&A or IPO.
I have also seen plenty of GCs without prestigious schools, big firm training, or corporate background who still made it. How do they account for their success? They have expertise in an area the company needs, e.g., regulatory if the company is launching a novel product, or IP if the company is monetizing its portfolio or is in the throes of an IP battle. These candidates have proven track records, excellent reputations, and strong backers.
In all cases, the job of general counsel requires strong legal, business, and people skills. Since there are so few top spots and so many people vying for them, luck and timing do play a big role. But people aiming to be GC are always maximizing their chances. They are easy to work at all levels (the support team AND C-suite love them), predict likely issues, and steer their clients into good outcomes.