GCs Need Additional Expertise In Cyber, Social Media Risks, Poll Finds

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By Yin Wilczek

May 26 — While companies may consult their general counsel on a whole host of issues, including shareholder engagement, they are less likely to consult them on cybersecurity and social media risks, a recent survey concludes.

According to the survey, directors rated their GCs highly for their knowledge on compliance, corporate governance, risk analysis and oversight, document management and shareholder engagement. However, the GCs didn't score as well on cybersecurity, social media risks and global business issues.

In fact, 67 percent of the respondents believe that their GCs would benefit from additional expertise in cybersecurity risk.

The survey, “GCs: Adding Value to the C-Suite,” was released May 12 and jointly conducted by NYSE Governance Services and legal recruiting consultant BarkerGilmore. It polled 5,000 directors, board chairs and chief executive officers of public companies in the NYSE Governance Services database between February and March.

Seeking: More Experience 

In an e-mail, BarkerGilmore managing partner John Gilmore told Bloomberg BNA that the cyber and social media risks responses caught him by surprise.

“These are the biggest concerns for boards, and yet, most of the current GC population has limited experience in these arenas,” Gilmore said in an e-mail. “Accordingly, there has been a push for GCs to become more adept in these matters.”

Gilmore added that companies are pursuing GCs with sophisticated backgrounds and experience in these new areas of law.

Other recent surveys indicate that information technology and cybersecurity risks are the key issues keeping directors and GCs up at night.

Exerting Their Influence 

The NYSE/BarkerGilmore survey also shows that GCs increasingly are seen as valuable members of the executive management team.

As one indicator of that value, 86 percent of the directors polled said that having a regularly reviewed succession plan for their GCs was either very important or somewhat important.

However, only 40 percent of the respondents said their companies had a formal succession plan for their GCs.

In other findings, 90 percent of the respondents said internal candidates for GC should be benchmarked against external candidates to ensure only the most qualified individual receives the job.

Internal candidates traditionally have been the primary source to replace GCs. The overwhelming support for benchmarking against external talent is a key takeaway from the survey, BarkerGilmore managing partner Robert Barker told BBNA. That was the “biggest surprise” of the responses, he said in an e-mail.

To contact the reporter on this story: Yin Wilczek in Washington at ywilczek@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan Tuck at rtuck@bna.com

The survey is available at http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/study-exposes-general-counsel-succession-planning-expectations-2018887.htm.