Lawyers as CEOS: A Growing Trend?

Problem solving and analytic skills put more lawyers in top corporate jobs

CHICAGO, MIKnowing how to sell groceries, fly airplanes or pick up garbage are generally not in the average lawyer's skill set or on her to-do list. But increased government regulation and the need to navigate international laws and treaties are just two of the reasons more lawyers are moving into the corner office in Fortune 50 companies--including Kroger Co., Continental Airlines and Waste Management Inc.--according to "CEO, Esq." the cover story in the May issue of ABA Journal.

Nine of the Fortune 50 companies' CEOs are lawyers, up from three a decade ago, reports author Mark Curriden. As an alternative to an MBA, the skills learned in law school and developed in legal practice are increasingly being recognized as applicable to any industry or profession; one academic calls the JD today's "renaissance degree."

"The training of lawyers, combined with the natural instincts for seeing all sides of an issue make them ideal candidates for the top job," said Ed Adams, editor and publisher of ABA Journal. "Featuring alternative legal careers to young lawyers, students or lawyers in transition through this cover piece helps show the possibilities available to those who are versatile and willing to think broadly about career options."

Sarbanes-Oxley has driven more regulatory oversight of all aspects of businesses and has forced both in-house and outside counsel to become more intimately involved in all aspects of business operations, according to the article. Most of the lawyer-CEOs profiled were elevated to the top job after holding other non-legal positions within the company, such as CFO, president or COO.

Published: Thu, May 6, 2010