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Odds are against internal candidates if there is a search for a new general counsel

Robert Major, of legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, makes you think with his article in Corp. Counsel, June 2007 at 69, on internal promotions. “When a company commits to performing a search for their next general counsel and there is an internal candidate, the odds are stacked strongly against the insider.” When a formal search is initiated, someone has decided that the internal candidate pool is too shallow. For several reasons the inside candidates are swimming against the tide.

According to Major, “people are often remembered for their worst work, not their best — and everyone makes mistakes.” Outsiders have no blemishes. Second, the work of the inside candidates is well-known within the company, warts and all, whereas a stranger can put makeup on her background almost with impunity. He also points out that the incumbent has generally been typecast as a number two. Executives are accustomed to that lawyer’s subordinate role and can’t shift to an elevated view of the person.

Another drawback for the second-in-command is that he or she has often been in charge of an area that is, obviously, narrower than the mandate of the General Counsel. It’s hard for board members and senior executives to envision the lawyer in a broader role. Finally, management teams often favor an outsider’s fresh perspective.” They may see the general counsel selection as an opportunity to “upgrade the office gene pool and welcome diversity to their executive ranks.”

Gloomy but thoughtful comments for hard-working deputies, but I wish there were data to support this comment about succession.

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