An Advisory Council comprised of Black General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers of large companies has come together to drive an initiative with the following goal: To increase the number of Black General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers (GC/CLO) in large companies (public and private), with an initial focus on increasing the number of GCs in Fortune 1000 companies from 38 to 50 (5%) by the year 2020, and from 50 to 100 (10%) by the year 2025. The program is being called the “2025 Initiative” in honor of the target date for achieving the goal. The Advisory Council intends to increase the number of Black GCs primarily by:
■ Identifying all current and former Black GCs in Fortune 500, Fortune 1000 and large private companies
■ Setting forth ideal core criteria necessary to be a successful GC
■ Using the criteria to identify “Ready Now” Black GC candidates
■ Connecting Black GCs and Ready Now candidates to new GC opportunities and executive search firms
■ Connecting ready now candidates and new Black GCs to each other to mentor and advise each other and to help with search and transition
Many of the Advisory Council members are part of the African-American General Counsel and Managing Partners Network that was formed many years ago with the goal of addressing diversity in the legal profession. The 2025 Initiative grew out of a presentation on the state of diversity in corporate in-house legal departments at the Corporate Counsel Summit held during the 2017 National Bar Association’s annual convention in Toronto. Ernest Tuckett, General Counsel Americas of AkzoNobel, challenged the audience of Black General Counsel, other in-house counsel, law fi rm lawyers and legal recruiters to strive for these aggressive yet attainable goals. The Advisory Council members answered that call and have launched the 2025 Initiative. To date, the Advisory Council has developed a list of core criteria that its GC members believe are important for any candidate to be a strong and successful GC. These core criteria were developed by drawing on the GCs’ collective depth of experience and with significant input from senior legal recruiters in executive search fi rms who have placed hundreds of GCs in large, middle market and small public and private companies. Of course, each person’s path to a GC role is unique, and likely no GC has all of the enumerated criteria. Likewise, each GC search is different and what one company deems “must have” expertise or experience, other companies may discount completely. Nonetheless, the Advisory Council believes these core criteria are instructive to candidates in evaluating their readiness, gaps and opportunities for growth.
The Council set forth three primary criteria for success as a General Counsel:
■ Strong Executive Presence and Interpersonal Skills
■ Significant Technical Legal Expertise and Experience
■ Excellent Judgment The Council also provides detailed descriptions under each of the three criteria.
The Advisory Council’s role is purely advisory and it does not intend to start a GC placement program through this initiative. Instead, the goal is to work with executive search fi rms and others to identify Black “Ready Now” lawyers to put forward as viable GC candidates. So far, recruiters from at least 5 international executive search fi rms have expressed their support. The Council intends to continue to build relationships with these and other search fi rms. In addition to developing the core criteria discussed above, the Advisory Council will also:
■ Collect and maintain an electronic “bio book” with headshots, and the confidential resumes of the Ready Now candidates
■ Collect and maintain an electronic “bio book” of all current and former Black GC
■ Circulate the electronic “bio books” with photos to select search firms, C-Suite executives and corporate board members seeking GC candidates
A lawyer who wants to be identified in the bio book as a Ready Now candidate should first review the core criteria published by the Advisory Council to determine whether he or she meets the criteria to be considered Ready Now. Then that lawyer should talk to current or former GCs or other C-Suite executives in his or her network to solicit their feedback and identify champions and sponsors who will vouch for him or her as a Ready Now candidate for GC of a Fortune 1000 or other large company.
Aspiring candidates will need to identify in the bio form the GCs or C-Suite executives who will champion them and, if asked, be willing to refer them to be on a slate given to a search firm for a GC role. “This vetting and sponsorship is critically important because it is not possible for the Advisory Council members to know each Ready Now candidate, and recruiters often want a recommendation from a GC or executive with personal knowledge of the candidate’s experience,” said April Miller Boise, SVP and Chief Legal Officer of Meritor, Inc., and a member of the Advisory Council. She is also one of the founders of the Initiative.
Completed bios and headshots submitted to the Advisory Council will be compiled into a bio book to be shared with executive search firms and other key partners upon request. Resumes will be collected from Ready Now candidates but will remain confidential and would only be shared on a case by case basis with the permission of the candidate.
Details on execution of the 2025 Initiative are still being finalized and it will be officially launched this summer. Ms. Boise says, “as we continue our conversations and learn through this process, we will continue to review and refine the criteria and determine the best solutions and approaches for reaching the goals of the initiative.”
Advisory Council members, in close collaboration with executive search firms, other GCs and C-Suite executives, and law fi rm lawyers, will seek to identify GC opportunities. Candidates identified as Ready Now will be considered for referral to the search firms.
The Importance of this Initiative.
“Having 10% of legal departments of major corporations led by Black lawyers would be an incredible leap forward. It would more than double the current Black GC representation, and would be more than 5 times the percentage of law fi rm partners who are Black – a mark that has been perpetually stuck below 2%,” said Ernest Tuckett, a founder of and the inspiration behind the 2025 Initiative. Tuckett continues, “the amount of outside legal spend and number of hiring decisions under the leadership of these Black GCs would be a game changer for the cause of diversity in the legal profession.” “Increased diversity in the legal profession, the C-Suite and the Board of Directors of major corporations is a key element in fostering environments of respect and engagement, developing sustainable business outcomes, combatting remaining barriers, bias and discrimination in hiring employees and vendors, and increasing opportunities for everyone,” said Michael Tucker, General Counsel of Avis Budget Group, and member of the Advisory Council. Additionally, greater diversity in leadership can lead to creation of more culturally sensitive companies in our communities. The 2025 Initiative seeks to drive diversity and inclusion in legal departments of large companies through which a major portion of our nation’s commerce and opportunities fl ow. The Advisory Council is excited about the possibilities of this undertaking and seeks to create allies in the business world to support it.