Lawyers must educate business and themselves
Mary Mullally reports
Why is it that lawyers in the UK do not make it to the board level?A common complaint among heads of legal is that they only go so far and, bang, they hit that glass ceiling… or more accurately the glass door into the boardroom. With bruised nose and hurt pride they are forced to accept that their business does not want them in the top management positions.This month in Legal Director two high profile lawyers lament the failure of business to recognise the value of the legal mind in management.Alan Whitfield, group head of legal at British Telecom, says it was one of the motivating factors behind his decision to leave the telecoms giant to join tied law firm KLegal.From the other side of the fence, Vanni Treves, former senior partner at Macfarlanes and chair of Equitable Life (the 11th board membership under his hat) says he simply does not understand why lawyers do not take on these role more often.Is it easier for a lawyer in private practice to be taken seriously at management level than a lawyer who has worked in the company for 20 years?The standing of lawyers working in business has improved immeasurably among their peers – evidenced by the number of star players that have been lured from private practice. But to keep the top talent, business has to offer a career path.Particularly galling for heads of legal in the UK is to watch from the sidelines as US counterparts skip up to board level with what appears to be tremendous ease. Accountants sit on the board as finance director as a matter of course – so why not lawyers?Could it be that lawyers are still not considered to be business-minded? Should in-house lawyers shoulder at least part of the blame for this?Legal Director’s Benchmarker survey this month reveals that, while 87% of training is legally focused, only 9% of training for in-house teams is dedicated to management and business issues.With corporate governance increasingly to the fore, businesses may learn by harsh experience that it is best to have the lawyer as one of the decision-makers. But if lawyers are going to change the mindset of business they need to educate the business leaders.And they need to educate themselves.
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