Leadership Evolution: The Rise of Lawyers in the C-Suite
50 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2022 Last revised: 29 Apr 2022
Date Written: January 8, 2022
The traditional thinking about the path to the top corporate executive leadership posts, reaching the so-called C-suite, is that it begins with earning an MBA degree. By contrast, the JD degree is thought of as one that prepares graduates for the practice of law, for government service, or for public interest advocacy. Since lawyers have historically been trained to protect clients from risk, law is not associated with senior business leadership. Yet, an evolving and accelerating trend is emerging: more lawyers are reaching or crossing over to become part of top corporate management teams. We present findings from our empirical study on corporate leadership profiles that documents a rise in the status of and opportunities for corporate lawyer-leaders and tracks major shifts in lawyers holding senior executive posts over time, thereby challenging the conventional wisdom on corporate talent management.
This Article takes the new law and leadership discourse into quantitative empirical research, and it challenges the traditional conception of the MBA degree as holding the key to a corner office. By examining the changing composition in the C-suites of Fortune 50 companies over the last thirty years, this Article documents the dramatic shift in the percentage of lawyers holding those most powerful corporate leadership posts. It then addresses the implications of these findings for those who aspire to corporate America’s highest heights, for the corporations seeking to develop new leadership talent, and for law schools inspiring and training a new generation of lawyer-leaders.
Keywords: law and leadership, leadership studies, empirical legal studies, corporate law, professional responsibility, corporations
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