Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ex-Lawyers Make Excellent Leaders.


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The recent news that a former lawyer has become the CEO of Kripalu (the Berkshires haven for many unhappy lawyers and others) put an extra spring in my bakasana. Things got even more exciting when I read the press release in detail. Kripalu cited David Lipsius’ “training as a lawyer” first on the list of “qualifications that make David the right person to lead Kripalu into the future.” It’s so nice to see “training as a lawyer” recognized for what it so often is: training as a leader. Lipsius didn’t come to Kripalu from a BigLaw corner office, but from NBC, where he had been a VP in charge of operational and creative divisions, and on the senior team of the Today show. As it happens, Lipsius replaces another former lawyer, Richard Faulds, as Kripalu’s CEO. According to Kripalu’s website, Faulds “joined Kripalu’s residential ashram staff after several years of working as a Legal Aid attorney, and became Kripalu’s legal counsel in 1989.” Don’t you love stories of lawyers who run away to the ashram?

This got me thinking about other ex-lawyers who run major institutions. As a new-ish business law professor, I’m especially interested in ex-lawyers running universities. The president of Bentley University, Gloria Cordes Larson, is my favorite example, and not just because she is a great boss. President Larson’s career has run the gamut of public policy and government work, from developing geriatric service programs to managing consumer affairs policy to putting together the Boston Convention Center, an enormous undertaking. Although she tells me that former lawyers make up a small minority of university presidents, they’re especially effective in that role.   Other ex-lawyers running universities include President Clayton Spencer of Bates College (Yale Law School, 1985) and President Kenneth Quigley of Curry College (Villanova Law School, 1982).

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that ex-lawyers make superb leaders. After running some case teams, many partners prove to be excellent managers (and I know that many other partners are terrible managers – I mean, I know).  Leadership requires not only vision and tenacity but the kind of analytical skill and ability to build consensus that lawyers often develop as their careers progress.  Those skills are enormously transferrable.  My hope is that more lawyers will take their leadership skills beyond the case team and into an organization they are passionate about.  David Lipsius makes an excellent role model.

Readers, who are your favorite ex-lawyers in leadership?  Maybe this one, or this one?

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When Should You Pay for Back-to-Work Training?

When you’re thinking of leaving the law, or have already left, it can be hard to start making the changes and connections that lead to your next career without some external help.   At the same time, the cost of a conference, program or counselor to help focus your search can seem stunning, especially in light of the prospective dip in income that often comes with leaving law.  It’s an awful lot of money, you might say to yourself.   How do you know when to justify that expense?

Let me help you with that justification.  We collectively spend a fair amount of money sending our kids back to school each fall.  We want to give them all the equipment they need to do well.  Why shouldn’t we invest at least as much time and money in whatever “equipment” we need to do well ourselves?

But where should you spend that money?  My view is the trainings that are most worth investing in are those that provide practical, tested advice, equipping you with the tools and information you need to make an effective career change.  Bonus points for those that give you the chance to network with employers you might like.

One conference I particularly recommend is iRelaunch’s Return to Work, coming up in NY on October 2.  From the keynote through the workshops, the emphasis is on specific resources and tactics rather than generalities.  There are career assessment workshops as well as opportunities to focus on networking and self-marketing.  One session focuses on developing the elevator pitch, training participants to talk succinctly about their experiences before and during their career break, and their career goals.  The conference is lead by Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Rabin, true experts in relaunching careers (and excellent mentors to many former lawyers).  You can learn more here.

When I was professionally clueless, I found it hard to justify paying for any kind of training or conference that might have helped my transition.  That, in retrospect, was short-sighted.  When I finally had the “a-ha moment” that got me out of my post-law rut, it was because of a conversation at one of those conferences I ponied up for. That eventually led me to the great job I have now as a tenure-track business law professor.

Now that back-to-school sales are flooding our in-boxes, it’s a good time to consider some back-to-work investing for yourself.   If we can buy our kids new laptops, clothes, furniture and otherwise equip them for their academic future, doesn’t it make sense to spend – wisely – on our own professional futures as well?

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