Becoming the Interim General Counsel: Congratulations and Condolences

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 02, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When a head coach leaves a team or gets sidelined, an assistant coach steps up to become the interim head coach.

Suddenly, you are in charge -- at least until the head coach comes back or a new one takes over. The real challenge is not the job but the sudden spotlight.

It's like when Luke Walton took over as interim head coach for Steve Kerr to lead the world champion Golden State Warriors, which worked out quite well for him. But that's another story. This blog is about being interim general counsel.

Congratulations: This Might Be Your Big Chance

If the offer comes to you, congratulations! It means that your company is trusting you with the reins of leadership. Only, don't get off on a gallop right away, cowboy.

Mike Evers, writing for Inside Counsel, recommends taking a cold assessment of the opportunity first. Talk to some mentors or trusted advisers, and ask the tough questions.

"Did the previous General Counsel leave due to a strained relationship with the CEO or after a difficult legal problem hurt the company?" he proposes. "Even if the GC did everything right, if the CEO was unhappy with your predecessor, you are in a dicey spot."

On the other hand, if your predecessor just moved on, then this could be your big chance. Like Luke Walton, who became "the winningest coach in NBA history" during his temporary assignment with the Warriors.

Condolences: Plan Your Future

Let's face it: an interim job is not a long-term commitment. It's a promise ring, not an engagement ring. The boss still wants to consider other options, so offer one:

"Ask for a trial or probationary period, often three to six months, during which you can be evaluated in the role," Evers suggests. "The ideal Interim period is one in which the company gives you a chance to prove yourself (no guarantees), but does not engage in a search process."

If the CEO isn't interested, he says, it may be time to start looking elsewhere. Take the interim in the interim, but plan your future with another company.

By the way, Luke Walton went from interim head coach to real head coach of another team when Steve Kerr returned to the Warriors. But that is another story.

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