When it comes to running a corporate or nonprofit business, a board of directors serves to expedite the decision-making process and promote organization as well as fairness in courses of actions. Logically, it makes sense for a lawyer to be present on such boards of directors. Lawyers can provide counsel to guide businesses in the right direction.
However, the idea that a lawyer should be present on a board of directors has been met with some controversy.
The most prominent advantage to having a lawyer on a board of directors is the access that is provided to legal knowledge. Lawyers are legal professionals who can offer insight into the law in such a way that they can practically serve as the organization’s attorney without adopting such a title. Additionally, by studying all throughout law school, lawyers develop critical thinking skills and techniques which can prove to be immensely helpful when organizing and assessing corporate data. Such skills also (usually) allow for attorneys to be more objective when evaluating and assessing an issue which someone who is closely connected to a corporation may not be in the best position to do, given the fact that they have a vested interest in the corporation.
In order to be successful in their field, lawyers must be detail-oriented and professional. These qualities are beneficial in a court setting, of course; however, they add value to a board of directors, as well. A lawyer on a board of directors, especially one serving for a nonprofit organization, can be considered a concerned civilian with a background in law, assuring the other board members that while the individual is an asset, they are also likely invested in a cause or idea.
Cultural & Specialization Fit
There are many different kinds of lawyers, and while a majority of them have similar training, their specializations vary. An intellectual property lawyer may be helpful in some cases, but for most businesses, a divorce lawyer may not be able to provide adequate expertise to help guide the business in the right direction. It is imperative that if an attorney is serving on the board that he/she has an actual background or some kind of knowledge in the nature of the services that are being provided by the corporation. Additionally, it is important the a lawyer on the board of directors is a cultural fit; determining whether a lawyer will be able to collaborate with the other board members in a productive way or if there will be an unnecessary conflict can help a board of directors decide which lawyer will best suit the role.
While lawyers are understandably intelligent and experienced, their contributions to a board meeting should never be considered the correct one simply because of the individual’s identity. Although this may seem like common sense, other members of a board of directors can easily fall into the trap of trusting in a lawyer’s advice due to their education and practical experience, even when their ideas do not align with a business’ goals or means. The focus should be that of what is in the best interests of the corporation and acknowledging the fact that the attorney who is on the board is only one member and that the other members equally have a voice and voting rights as such relates to the decisions for the corporation. The attorney is not the final authority on all decisions, they are a board member who has just as much equal input as everyone else, despite the fact that they have a law degree.