January 10, 2007
More on lawyers & CEOs
Posted by Nancy Rapoport.
Jeff Lipshaw hits the nail on the head (sorry about the Home Depot pun) in his post, More on Lawyers as Leaders. In the Wall Street Journal article on lawyers & CEOs, I was happy about one particular omission. I'm glad that Alan Murray, who wrote the column, didn't trot out the hoary old saw about how law schools teach law students to "think like lawyers," as if other professions didn't also teach ways to understand and dissect arguments, think logically, and argue convincingly. I've written on this particular brand of arrogance before. More below....
(By the way, I actually think it's possible to comply with regulations and do well in business--but the culture has to support the decision that compliance is a necessary part of doing business and not just something to circumvent.)
Mr. Murray also hit upon a very important point: the general differences in risk tolerances between lawyers and businesspeople. Law schools encourage risk-averse thinking: lawyers are supposed to think of problems before they happen and then come up with ways to solve those problems. But companies don't make money by being risk-averse. They make money by taking risks. By imprinting law students with risk-averseness, we encourage a culture with good points ("coloring within the lines," if you will) and bad points (misunderstanding what drives for-profit businesses). Until we also teach law students to understand the ways that business people think, and the various pressures that they face--pressures about budgets, targets, market share, etc.--we're not training law students to give complete advice to their business client. It's as if we're training our students to survive in one environment, say, the Arctic, and then sending them out to an entirely different environment, say, the desert. Some of their skills are useful in both environments, but if they don't acquire additional skills, they'll die.
I grew up in deep East Texas, a subtropical environment full of greenery. For a while, we had all-white squirrels that someone had brought in from elsewhere, but they all soon fell victim to predators because they couldn't adapt. If the lawyers heading companies use their legal training and their understanding of what motivates business people, they can make very good CEOs, indeed.
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