Last week I attended my nephew’s high school graduation. The commencement, held in the performing arts auditorium of a large university campus, was packed. It was filled with excited graduates, proud family members and the younger students who were looking forward to moving up a grade next school year.

Aside from the tossing around of inflated beach balls, the random blaring of air horns, or the sea of shiny caps that the graduates had decorated with ‘bling’, this ceremony was like any other that I’ve been to. The familiar and cliché themes of promise, destiny and future were expressed by everyone who addressed the audience.

Perhaps from boredom or from being seated in the nose-bleed balcony section filled with the rambunctious lower classmen, I started to imagine how the students remaining in the school must be feeling. Were they excited to take on the role of the ‘big, bad Senior’? Were they picturing themselves seated where the graduates were, this time next year? Were they nervous or scared about the new expectations that would be placed on them, or the big shoes they now had to fill?

The legal business world operates on a similar dynamic. Recently, quite a few articles on new appointments to the position of General Counsel for Corporate Legal Departments have caught my eye.  The CLD’s of American Express, Merck, GE Healthcare, DuPont, McKesson Corporation, Kodak Alaris and Safran are just a few with new leadership. When looking into the previous positions held by some of the newly appointed GCs, I saw that their backgrounds were as diverse as the areas of legal practice. I noticed a common thread: all of these companies were interested in expanding their strategic business profiles. They were looking for candidates that could add tactical and commercial value to their organizations and could play a more business-centric role.

A successful GC today must possess legal expertise, proven leadership skills AND a clear understanding of their company’s objectives. With in-house counsel focusing more heavily than ever on driving the business forward, and with such innovative, high-performing leadership in place today, there are sure to be many interesting developments to follow soon.

I came across a very interesting read this week, The GC Powerlist 2014-Rising Stars. Part of the Legal 500 series, which ranks and recognizes both law firm and legal department excellence, the Powerlist identified the most powerful corporate in-house attorneys in the US today.  What I found to be particularly interesting about this publication is that they used 100 senior GCs (who were previously recognized in their 2013 report) to provide input on ‘the best mid-level talent’, or the rising stars of 2014.

With so much change happening in legal departments, I have no doubt that we will hear more about these key in-house players in the future. Cheers to the GCs of tomorrow! And cheers to the graduates who got me thinking about them!