What makes legal professionals executives in a disaster?
Lawyers in corporations and other large organizations typically play the role of safe haven. When storms occur and circumstances become unsafe or stressful, sooner or later lawyers – especially the general counsel – will find a way to calm things down.
Lawyers are also crisis managers. It is therefore not surprising that many organizations are turning to lawyers for broader leadership and strategic roles. We are experiencing an ongoing crisis like we have never seen before and some issues can only be resolved if viewed from a legal perspective.
Look at the healthcare industry. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as states and municipalities began issuing home-stay orders, it became clear that such orders made no sense for hospital workers – for example, how could an entire nurse work? from home? It was lawyers who came in to help health organizations communicate with lawmakers and deal with the uncertainty surrounding regulatory requirements. Lawyers across all industries have helped understand the business implications of the pandemic on day-to-day operations.
Another area in which lawyers have acted to provide expertise concerns issues related to social unrest and the pursuit of greater diversity, justice and inclusion in society. Lawyers are able to work with seemingly opposing viewpoints in order to achieve consensus and progress. They know the legal framework within which changes can take place. As a result, many organizations support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives when not led by their legal advisor.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put lawyers at the fore as leaders. It has made it clear to organizations that more responsibility and authority should be placed on the shoulders of their best legal experts.
Born to lead?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, lawyers were tapped to run an increasing number and variety of organizations. Take colleges and universities, for example. Patricia Salkin, Provost of the Graduate and Professional Departments of New York’s Touro College and a lawyer herself, the number of attorneys in the role of president in higher education has more than doubled in each of the past three decades. Today’s colleges are big companies, and the job of running them has become much more complex, she notes. She adds that, as in most industries, actors in academia are increasingly contentious over First Amendment, privacy and intellectual property issues, Title IX and more. So it makes sense for lawyers to come to the fore in the academic field.
What qualities do lawyers have that help them perform well in times of great uncertainty? For one thing, in these polarized times, lawyers have a knack for navigating situations with very different opinions. They are pragmatic, logical thinkers who can look at complicated things from different angles and find solutions. That has always made them good politicians.
Additionally, lawyers – at least the good guys – tend to have deep empathy and emotional intelligence. At a time when data and bean counting become a mistake, the human component that is needed to overcome challenges can be lost. Rather than being data-driven, lawyers take a more philosophical, holistic approach to leadership.
Of course, not all lawyers were born to lead. Individuals who, like lawyers often, are extremely independent thinkers can find it difficult to lead teams and develop people. Executives often lack the basic business and management skills that top executives need, such as: B. Budgeting, Financial Management, and Organizational Behavior – the types of skills taught in business school.
An emerging trend
University of Chicago Law School researcher M. Todd Henderson asked whether lawyers are better CEOs than MBAs. In his research, he found that law firms run by lawyers’ CEOs had far fewer corporate litigation than their MBA counterparts. The idea was that CEOs with legal expertise usually know how to deal with litigation risk and therefore pursue more risk averse strategies. Henderson therefore states that CEOs with a legal background often create greater business value.
This can only be one more reason why lawyers are increasingly moving into high-level leadership positions beyond the legal department. As a recruiter, I expect this trend to continue. There are so many critical leadership roles out there these days that require both legal acumen and the innate leadership skills that many lawyers have.