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Women Led a Third of Fortune 500 Legal Departments in 2019

Jan. 22, 2020, 11:35 PM

Women led 33% of Fortune 500 legal departments in 2019, up from 28% a year earlier, according to legal headhunting firm BarkerGilmore.

Fifty-six lawyers were appointed to a new enterprise general counsel or chief legal officer role within the Fortune 500 last year, John Gilmore, a co-founder and managing partner of BarkerGilmore, said in a blog post Wednesday. Roughly 10% of the law department’s in the Fortune 500 experience a leadership change each year.

BarkerGilmore, a Fairport, N.Y.-based boutique executive search firm, uncovered several other indicators of what a successful applicant looks like in pursuing the path toward a legal chief chair:

  • 35 of the 56 new GC or CLO appointments last year—or 62%—were internal promotions
  • 51% percent of those promoted from within were women or minorities, while 57% of external hires were part of that cohort
  • 30 of the 56 new hires were women or minorities, representing 54% of such appointments in 2019
  • 25 of the 56 appointees—or 45%—were women, of which 15 were promoted from within and 10 were hired externally, including five former sitting GCs
  • 20 of the new women appointees replaced outgoing male GCs
  • 20% of women and 5% of men chosen as internal successors were promoted within two years of joining a company
  • 13 years was the average tenure for women before internal promotion, compared to 14 years for men
  • 43% of outside hires were previously sitting GCs, 24% were division or deputy GCs, 24% were law firm partners, and 9% came from government service

BarkerGilmore’s Gilmore said the statistics show there is no one common thread for ascending to the top of the law department ladder, noting that abilities not found on a resume—like cultural fit, gravitas, leadership, and mentorship—are critical in making such decisions.

“One cannot stereotype the journey to general counsel by skillset or career path,” he wrote. “Appointees come from corporations, law firms, and government agencies, representing a myriad of practice areas including corporate law, labor and employment, litigation, regulatory, and IP.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at