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Six poor reasons why in-house candidates aren’t promoted to serve as the new general counsel

With posts here and there about the odds of an internal promotion to the top legal spot compared to a recruitment of a new person to that position, let’s pause to state the shaky reasons why recruitment happens more than it should. More accurately, it happens more than academic researchers suggest it should happen based on CEO succession and the aftermath. These flawed explanations ignore sound reasons such as lack of ability or preparation among the internal contenders or their lack of interest in promotion.

  1. The shortcomings of a long-serving Chris in the legal department, ready for prime time, are well known and much chattered about. Chris’s known warts look ugly compared to the unblemished visage of the outside candidate.

  2. Change follows from change, doesn’t it? If we want to shake up that slow, over-priced and cantankerous department over-staffed with prima donnas, we need new blood, a modern perspective, a change of pace and face!

  3. Really smart lawyers become partners at well-known firms (or stayed and built an impressive practice). The corollary of this misguided view is that legal sharpness should be the primary strength of the new general counsel, not balanced by the ability to motivate, manage, and move a team.

  4. It is too hard to visualize in-house veteran Robin as anything bigger than Robin, certainly not dealing with the Board, handling corporate crises, making the tough legal calls. It’s easier to assume broad abilities of the unknown candidate than to attribute growth and capability of a person who has long been slotted in a role.

  5. Internal politics stymies the internal candidate. Powerful business unit President A likes Jean but powerful business unit President B doesn’t want a lackey of A to rise to the top of the legal pile. In the competition to be the next CEO, never strengthen your opponent!

  6. Executive recruiters make wads of money if the company plucks its new general counsel from elsewhere, but that wouldn’t influence their advice, would it?