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Picking “the best” of anything is a dicey business. Our “Shortlist” isn’t about choosing the most brilliant in-house counsel or the most popular ones. That would not only be too difficult, it wasn’t our point. Instead, we wanted to single out in-house lawyers with the whole package. We’ve selected 10 we think are poised to nail the top prize — a general counsel spot at a Fortune 500 company. We put together the Shortlist knowing that the pool of talent is deep; that we were bound to miss some talented corporate counsel, and that subjectivity, not science, rules the game. That said, we devoted a lot of time to canvassing, reporting, and debating. Last fall we surveyed nearly 1,000 general counsel and practice area heads, bombarding them with faxes and phone calls. We also sent questionnaires to hundreds of managing partners at top law firms and contacted close to 1,000 legal recruiters. We quizzed legal consultants and hounded outside counsel, too. We asked them all for the names of deputy or associate general counsel who looked likely to become GCs by 2010. We got 87 detailed replies. To pare that list down to 10, we considered the nominators’ comments and possible biases. And we scrutinized the nominees’ records. What we wanted was first-rate legal intelligence coupled with superb business judgment — people with the stature to counsel a chief executive. We also sought lawyers who’d demonstrated their ability to lead and who prompted far more than pro forma praise. Was there a hot specialty area or big litigation win on their record? If so, that helped. In short, we wanted to be impressed. We noticed that Tyco’s N. Cornell Boggs III, General Electric’s Michael McAlevey, MCI’s Carol Ann Petren, and IBM’s Donald Rosenberg each received multiple nominations. Both Boggs and McAlevey garnered five separate nominations. Our selection process may have been a bit too good. Two lawyers who were initially on the Shortlist, Sabine Chalmers and Robert Lavet, nabbed GC jobs before we’d finished writing their profiles. Chalmers is now general counsel at InBev, and Lavet was promoted into the top legal job at Sallie Mae. But that’s the risk of writing about successful people: They don’t stay put. It’s a danger that Brackett Denniston understands all too well. He was featured in our first Shortlist in 2002, and became GE’s general counsel in 2004. When we called to tell him that six lawyers on his staff had been nominated, Denniston admitted he was uncomfortable discussing their achievements. “I don’t want to lose them,” he said. Tyco GC Bill Lytton, who is himself a veteran of the general counsel-spawning grounds at GE, was more philosophical. Does he worry about losing his best lawyers (such as Cornell Boggs)? “I’m always concerned about that,” he said. “But that’s what happens when you have good talent.” We couldn’t agree more.

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