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In-house lawyers 'should look to boardroom'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 07/06/13

Sir Nigel Knowles, global co-chief executive officer of international law firm DLA Piper, has suggested that more in-house lawyers should be offered boardroom positions in UK companies, pointing to the growing trend towards this in the US as an edifying example.

Writing in the New Statesman, Sir Nigel revealed that a recent study from USA Today found that as of 2009, 43 per cent of US companies had lawyer directors on their boards; rising from 24 per cent back in 2000.

"The authors of the paper opine that a company with a lawyer on its board has a corporate value typically 9.5 per cent higher than a company without and empirically performs better," he explained.

While it would be easier to dismiss the peer's suggestion as the typical hubris of a successful legal professional, the truth is that there are many transferable skills from from the role of an in-house lawyer to that of a company director or executive.

You wouldn't ask a lawyer to help you with a particularly tricky piece of wiring or call the solicitor's office when attempting to compose the final stanza of your epic poem about the Hacienda, but when it comes to negotiating regulatory situations they are often a good bet.

This was the tack taken by Sir Nigel, who pointed out that lawyers can reduce the external legal risks faced by a company as well as placing a strong focus on internal corporate governance, something that has become especially important over recent years following a series of embarrassing business scandals.

Despite this self-evident advantage, only 14 lawyers are acting in any capacity on the boards of the FTSE 100 and only rep 20 qualified lawyers are currently on boards of the FTSE 250, explained the DLA Piper chief.

"Lawyers seeking board level appointments must for their part look to expand their exposure to boards of all kinds, be they businesses, schools, local councils or charities, in order to gain more people management experience and learn to think less like a lawyer and more like a business person," he concluded.