Untapped potential: Lawyers on boards

Demand for UK senior legal professionals in NED / board advisory roles is growing.

While the UK is still a fair way behind its US and European counterparts, corporates are starting to identify the intrinsic value that top-tier lawyers bring to strategic decision-making. After all, lawyers are trained to investigate, analyse and question.

1. Am I a good fit for a NED Senior Legal Professional?

As General Counsel, complex issues relating to risk, compliance and governance are part and parcel of daily operations. In doing this, legal professionals are not only practising law, they are firmly positioned to defend the reputation of an organisation as strategic business partners.

It is however hard for lawyers to find their first non-executive director role: restrictions that prevent conflicts of interest mean it is virtually impossible to simultaneously take on a commercial NED while practising law. Acquiring board experience with a charitable organisation is often a good start.

If the prospect of a future NED role appeals, then broadening business exposure and credentials whilst still in an executive role is a good start. In the workplace, lawyers often sharpen their commercial awareness through cross-functional participation on projects and perhaps additional study, such as an MBA.

NED roles play to the strengths of a talented senior legal professional, including the ability to review, absorb and synthesise extensive amounts of information quickly. Those involved in company secretarial roles already possess a deep understanding of governance frameworks, and know how to steer and navigate challenging board dynamics.

2. What are the key attributes of a successful NED?

Effective NEDs challenge traditional thinking, debate constructively and provide clarity to strategic oversight, as well as impartial advice and sound judgement.

  • Critical Friend: Many senior legal professionals have previous practical experience of providing independent board advice and acting as a sounding board.
  • Calm under pressure: Lawyers are trained to methodically work through difficult issues and provide a balanced view.
  • Resolve conflict: Lawyers are used to working with all sorts of personalities, making persuasive arguments and navigating competing priorities when faced with obstacles.
  • Best practice governance: Lawyers understand that exceptional governance standards protect reputations as well as having integrity and high ethical standards.
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3. Strategic thinking

Taking a long-term view is essential for NEDs – they facilitate, encourage and support the board, as well as always considering the bigger commercial picture and organisational impact at a high macro level.

4. What do organisations want from a NED?

In addition to strategic capabilities, organisations are looking for financial acumen and commercial understanding from their non-executive directors. Finance and stewardship of assets are crucial to effective leadership.

NEDs also need to be aware of best practice governance, performance measurements and management. This includes oversight of frameworks of management controls and an appreciation of managing risks.

As ambassadors of the organisation, NEDs require an outward focus – whether that is to shareholders, regulators, the general public or the media – and being able to handle that is vital. They must be dedicated and have a genuine interest in the work of the board and organisation.

City CV have helped clients, from International General Counsel to Senior Commercial Lawyers and Chancery Barristers, rapidly secure NED roles across every sector. If you would like to discuss what you require for your board role call us on 020 7100 6656 or email your details and we’ll be in touch.