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.