BarkerGilmore’s Managing Partner on Today’s Law Department Leaders

John Gilmore, Managing Partner, BarkerGilmore, discussed what it takes to succeed as a chief legal officer or general counsel in his presentation to Argyle's CLO membership at the 2016 Chief Legal Officer Leadership Forum in Washington, DC on June 21. In his presentation, "CLO/General Counsel Assessment – What CEOs and Boards Are Looking for From Today’s Law Department Leaders," Gilmore described some of the key traits that CEOs and boards of directors look for in CLO and GC candidates.

According to Gilmore, becoming a successful CLO or GC requires a long-term approach.

In fact, a CLO or GC candidate typically builds his or her leadership skills over an extended period of time and generates support from his or her peers consistently.

"[A CLO or GC displays] a leadership style where if you do it throughout your whole career, the loyalty and the people that you'll build underneath you are incredible," Gilmore said.

Gilmore also pointed out the physical skill set of a CLO of GC varies depending on the company and its requirements.

However, a CLO or GC candidate's reputation often plays a key role in whether he or she is a viable applicant.

"What we're looking for in our assessment is your reputation," Gilmore stated. "Your reputation is, 'What are other people thinking about you?'"

How an individual is perceived by peers and leadership likely will dictate his or her chances of landing a job as a CLO or GC.

"[A CLO or GC displays] a leadership style where if you do it throughout your whole career, the loyalty and the people that you'll build underneath you are incredible."

As such, it is paramount for a candidate to take a broad view of a CLO or GC candidacy and understand how he or she is perceived by others within an organization.

"Sometimes, we overestimate ourselves," Gilmore said. "Sometimes, we really need to get active with outside resources to understand what other people think of you."

Although legal skills are important for all CLO and GC candidates, many of these skills can be developed over an extended period of time.

Thus, CEOs and boards of directors usually examine a candidate's leadership skills closely to ensure he or she is the right fit for a particular organization's needs.

"Legal skills are important, but you can buy legal skills you don't have," Gilmore said. "It's the leadership, it's the ability to handle challenging situations when they come up and it's the ability to form relationships where you're the trusted advisor of the board and CEO -- that's the key."

Assessing a CLO or GC candidate often is difficult, but CEOs and boards of directors commonly examine how an applicant has helped drive a business forward.

Also, having the ability to adjust to difficult situation represents an important trait for a CLO or GC.

A CLO or GC must be able to succeed under pressure, Gilmore said, and CEOs and boards of directors will want to assess how a candidate will deliver results in exceedingly challenging scenarios.

"It's the executive team understanding what are you made of," Gilmore said.

The cultural fit within an organization is an important consideration for a CLO or GC candidate, too.

"Sometimes, we really need to get active with outside resources to understand what other people think of you."

Ultimately, a CLO or GC must be able to adapt to an organization's culture and thrive within this culture day after day.

"When you accept a general counsel position, you don't want to misfire," Gilmore stated. "You'll want to make sure that your values align with the company that you would go to so that it's a great long-term fit."

So how can a CLO or GC candidate improve his or her chances of landing the right job within the right organization?

Gilmore pointed out a CLO or GC candidate must find ways to improve his or her reputation, this applicant must strive to do the right thing in his or her daily activities.

An individual's identity remains a key component of the CLO or GC assessment process for CEOs and boards of directors.

If an applicant understands the importance of his or her identify, this individual can work to enhance it consistently. In this scenario, an applicant can boost his or her identity and reputation at the same time.

On the other hand, a candidate who ignore his or her daily tasks and simply focuses on climbing the corporate ladder is unlikely to maintain an identity that matches his or her reputation. Therefore, this applicant may struggle to show he or she is capable of handling the daily responsibilities of a CLO or GC.

"Make sure your reputation and identity are parallel," Gilmore said. "Then, what you know about yourself is the same that others know about you, and then you're bound for success."


John Gilmore is a Managing Partner at BarkerGilmore. With almost three decades of experience in executive recruiting, he has managed the successful placement of General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officers for Fortune-500 and emerging growth companies.

John’s searches are guided by his commitment to succession planning. He helps his clients build the strongest and most productive legal departments by taking into consideration a company’s current circumstances as well as its future needs.

His unparalleled track record in executive search and assessment led him to develop the CustomFit℠ process, which is employed in every BarkerGilmore search. This innovative tool provides a powerful recruiting solution, and has resulted in candidate placement and retention rates well above industry average.

John holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University at Buffalo. He is considered an authority on succession planning, and on compensation and employment trends for legal and compliance. He is often quoted in the press and his insights have appeared in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Corporate Board Member Magazine.