Historically, general counsel were white, male, spoke unaccented English, and, as a group, had remarkably similar life experiences and skills. Many came directly from the law firms that acted as the clients' "outside general counsel" and whose senior partners sat on their clients' boards.
Today, many newly appointed general counsel have career paths, skill sets, and life experiences that are as diverse as the constituencies they serve. This diversity is consistent with their evolving role—from an administrator to a strategic business partner who anticipates and mitigates legal risks as well as threats to their corporation's reputation.
Not surprisingly, the track to the top now reflects these new requirements. First, the trajectory is no longer linear. Highly competitive general counsel searches are increasingly awarded to lawyers who have benefited from "off-road" experiences in high impact public sector positions in addition to more traditional experiences in law firms and corporate law departments.
Second, CEOs and boards recognize that general counsel with litigation skills can add value in anticipating and mitigating risk events in crisis management and in getting a quick and accurate read of a rapidly developing situation.
Third, the need for collaboration within the executive leadership ranks and for team-building and people skills as a leader and a manager has made the emotional intelligence (EI) of general counsel as important as their technical skills.
These three requirements—public sector experience, litigation training, and high EI—have changed the game plan for those who aspire to be a general counsel. They are part of a process of aligning core competencies of general counsel with the business goals and expectations of the constituencies that a general counsel serves.
Public Sector Experience
An increasing number of today's general counsel had formative experiences in the public sector. For many, an early career stint as a federal prosecutor or with an attorney general's office empowered them as young lawyers to develop the maturity, self-confidence, and charisma essential to becoming a general counsel. Starbucks' General Counsel Paula Boggs spent the first decade of her legal career in the public sector—as a federal prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice and as White House counsel during the Iran-Contra crisis. She leveraged that experience into a partnership with the Seattle firm of Preston, Gates & Ellis, became vice-president, legal for products, operations and information technology systems at Dell Computer Corp., and was appointed executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Starbucks Coffee Company in 2002. Boggs credits her early public sector experience as providing the building blocks for the skills that she draws upon as general counsel. "Those skills I acquired as a young lawyer serve me very well as a general counsel," says Boggs.
"The general counsel is called upon to be the calm in the middle of a storm and needs to be someone who inspires confidence in the boardroom and with senior executives of the company. Being a federal prosecutor was very important in development as a lawyer and a leader because you develop the sense early on that every time you step into a courtroom you represent the United States government," Boggs continues. "Everybody in the room—the judges, the jury, opposing counsel—expects a level of excellence and performance consistent with that role."
In addition to Boggs, other high-profile general counsel with experience as federal prosecutors or as a general counsel of a cabinet-level agency include Bill Lytton at Tyco Plastics and Adhesives, Larry Thompson at PepsiCo, Andrea Zopp at Sears Roebuck and Co., Charles James at Chevron, Ralph Boyd at Freddie Mac (now the president of the Freddie Mac Foundation), Deval Patrick formerly at Coca-Cola Company (now a candidate for governor of Massachusetts), Richard Ziegler at 3M Company, Gary Lynch at CSFB, Bill Barr at Verizon, Peter Kreindler at Honeywell International, Brackett Dennison at General Electric Company, and Sara Moss at Estee Lauder.
Track To The Top: Minority General Counsel
|Law School||Individual||Career Track||General Counsel|
|'67 Wayne State||Wayne Budd||Department of Justice (Associate Attorney General) -> U.S. Attorney (Mass.) ->Goodwin Procter ->Bell Atlantic (Group President) ->||John Hancock -> (retired post-merger)|
|'70 Boalt||Alberto Moreno||Legal Services Corp., San Francisco->Levi Strauss (Assistant General Counsel; Associate General Counsel; Deputy General Counsel) ->||Levi Strauss|
|'71 Harvard||Solomon Watson||U.S. Army->Bingham->||New York Times|
|'71 Howard||Stacey Mobley||->||DuPont Company|
|'72 Columbia||James Lipscomb||->||Metropolitan Life Insurance Company|
|'73 Case Western||James Diggs||AUSA (ILL.)->TRW->||PPG Industries Inc.|
|'73 George Washington||Michael Carter||Singer Co.->RJR/Nabisco->Pinkerton's ->Concurrent->||Dole Foods|
|'73 Michigan||James Jenkins||Judge Seidenfeld (2nd District, ILL.)->Federal Defender->Dow->||Deere & Company|
|'74 Michigan||Michele Coleman Mayes||AUSA (Eastern Dist. of Michigan)->UNISYS->Colgate-Palmolive Company->||Pitney Bowes Inc.|
|'74 Michigan||Larry Thompson||U.S. Attorney (Georgia)->King & Spalding->Department of Justice (Deputy Attorney General)->Brookings->||PepsiCo|
|'75 Harvard||James Breedlove||Davis Polk->Philip Morris->Department of Justice (Assistant Attorney General) ->GE Capital Modular Space->GE Equipment Services->||Praxair|
|'76 Boalt||Charles Tanabe||Sherman & Howard->||Liberty Media|
|'77 BU||Alberto Gonzalez-Pita||Walton Lantaff->Patton & Kanner->McDermott Will->White & Case->BellSouth->||Tyson Foods|
|'77 Chicago||Roderick Palmore||AUSA (ILL.)->Wildman Harrold->Sonnenschein Nath->||Sara Lee Corporation|
|'77 Cornell||Leonard Kennedy||Federal Communications Commission->Dow Jones->||Nextel|
|'77 Michigan||Gloria Santona||->||McDonald's Corporation|
|'77 NYU||Tracy Rich||IRS (Trial Attorney)->Robinson & Cole->Connecticut Mutual->MassMutual->||Phoenix Companies|
|'78 American||Vernon Baker||Schnader Harrison->Scott Paper->Hoechst->||ArvinMeritor|
|'78 Harvard||Kenneth Frazier||Drinker Biddle->||Merck & Co. Inc.|
|'79 George Washington||Charles James||Federal Trade Commission->Jones Day->Department of Justice (Assistant Attorney General) ->||ChevronTexaco|
|'79 Miami||Carlos Hernandez||Kavanaugh & Lieby->Burns & McDonnell Engineering ->Armco->Fleming Companies->||International Steel|
|'80 Albany||Frank Fernandez||Fernandez Burstein->||Home Depot|
|'80 Columbia||George Madison||Judge Jones (6th Circuit)->Shearman->Mayer-Brown->Comerica->||TIAA-CREF|
|'80 Georgetown||Javade Chaudhri||Surrey & Morse->Jones Day->Winston & Strawn->Gateway->||Sempra Energy|
|'81 Harvard||Lawrence Tu||Judge Mansfield (2nd Circuit)->Justice Marshall (Supreme Court)->U.S. State Department (Special Assistant to the Legal Advisor)->Goldman Sachs->O'Melveny & Myers->NBC->||Dell, Inc.|
|'81 Harvard||Andrea Zopp||AUSA (Chicago)->Sonnenschein->SaraLee Corporation->||Sears/Kmart|
|'82 Harvard||Deval Patrick||Judge Reinhardt (9th Circuit)->Hill & Barlow->Department of Justice (Assistant Attorney General)->Day Berry->Texaco->||Coca-Cola Company (retired)|
|'83 Harvard||Ronald McCray||Kimberly Clark (with company since 1987) ->||Kimberly-Clark Corporation|
|'83 Stanford||Paul Harris||Thompson Hine->Revco->Thompson Hine->||KeyCorp|
|'84 Boalt||Paula Boggs||Army->Iran-Contra->AUSA (WD Washington) ->Army->Preston Gates->Dell, Inc.->||Starbucks Corporation|
|'84 Harvard||Ralph Boyd||Ropes & Gray->AUSA (Mass.)->Goodwin Procter->Department of Justice (Assistant Attorney General)->Alston & Bird->||Freddie Mac (now President, Freddie Mac Foundation)|
|'84 Yale||Paul Williams||Vorys Sater->Borden's->Information Dimensions ->||Cardinal Health|
|'86 Columbia||Don Liu||Judge Pollock (Supreme Court. of New Jersey)->Simpson ->Thacher->Richards & O'Neil->Aetna->IKON Office Solutions->||Toll Brothers, Inc.|
|'92 Emory||Kellye Walker||Chaffe McCall->Hill & Barlow->||BJ's Wholesale Club|
Public Sector Experience and Minority General Counsel
The trend of general counsel of Fortune 500 companies increasingly possessing public sector experience, in addition to experience in law firms and in corporations, particularly benefits minority attorneys. For minority lawyers, becoming an assistant United States attorney or taking on a comparably demanding position in the public sector can offer an opportunity to develop skills and gain leadership opportunities in ways that are not necessarily available in the private sector. When law students look at various opportunities and role models, they will find that the public sector has a significantly better track record of recruiting, retaining, and promoting minority attorneys.
The statistical analysis of the career paths of Fortune 500 general counsel presents a compelling case: 50 percent of the minority general counsel (current and recent) of Fortune 500 companies have public sector experience, particularly as federal prosecutors. In contrast, only 14 percent of non-minority general counsel of Fortune 500 companies have worked in the public sector. This 36 percent differential in the career paths of minority and non-minority attorneys who become general counsel is statistically significant. One extrapolation from this data is that minority attorneys can derive meaningful benefit from early career experience in the public sector.
It is not surprising that the public sector helps level the playing field and creates opportunities for highly qualified minority attorneys whose careers may otherwise become stalled due to the institutional DNA of a private sector law firm or corporation. A number of factors explain these different career paths to becoming a Fortune 500 general counsel.
- Historically, the government has served to drive change and create equal opportunity in American society—helping level the playing field and facilitating change.
- The government's track record of success in promoting (as well as hiring) people of color translates into higher retention rates, particularly in comparison to law firms, distinguished by being the largest employers of lawyers in the private sector and also having the worst track record of retaining and promoting lawyers of color.
- The crisis management atmosphere within a U.S. attorney's office rewards accomplishment over pedigree. This is another way of describing a level playing field, on which people are judged by initiative, accomplishment, and success-and not by where they live or who their relatives may be or where they may play golf.
Whether or not they were federal prosecutors, litigators can be well positioned to become general counsel. A good litigator develops finely honed crisis management skills, people skills, and proactive enterprise risk management skills in addition to good judgment, ethics, and integrity. Litigators are trained in risk management and bring critical skills to bear in advising senior management. "Given the range of roles and responsibilities one has as a general counsel, the best preparation for the job involves a wide variety of life experiences, and not just the traditional associate-to-partner law firm career path," according to Tim Mayopoulos, general counsel, Bank of America. Other general counsel skilled in litigation include Michael Helfer at Citigroup, David Aufhauser at UBS PaineWebber, Joan Guggenheimer at Banc One, Don Kempf at Morgan Stanley (recently retired), Jeff Kindler at Pfizer Inc., and Richard Willard at Gillette.
Emotional Intelligence (EI)
As organizational cultures focus increasingly on teamwork and EI, the hallmark of a credible leader becomes relationship building, driving execution, and building broad-based business relationships across the organization. These people skills are essential to a general counsel's professional relationships, both internally, within teams and within the law department, and externally, with clients/constituencies. Today's organizations promote attorneys who are successful in managing relationships, influencing peers and colleagues, and containing and resolving conflicts—particularly those based on personality clashes—with minimal noise.
An effective general counsel understands that people are a company's greatest asset and that a critical difference between a high-performing and an average team is connectivity: How well people relate to each other and to their client constituencies. These general counsel inspire, motivate, and encourage the growth of those they supervise. They build consensus among their peers. They help the CEO and the board navigate an ever-changing risk landscape by exercising judgment. They also have impeccable ethics and integrity.
Aligning core competencies with business goals and expectations changes the traditional skills sets and experiences that prepare a lawyer to become a general counsel. Critical to success in today's multi-cultural, global business environment is a general counsel who can offer a diverse background and perspective. For minority attorneys, developing EI while gaining career experience as a federal prosecutor or other type of litigator offers a promising path to the general counsel's office.
June Eichbaum is a leader in Heidrick & Struggles Chief Legal Officer practice, including general counsel, corporate secretaries and chief compliance officer searches. She is based in the firm's New York office. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the September/October 2005 issue of Diversity & The Bar®