From Law School to Wall Street: A new era of shifting legal dynamic

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

Since the early 1900’s large corporations, banks and investment firms have hired people with a background in finance and further higher studies in the same field as their CEOs and other similar positions (COO/CFO). There was a shift in the dynamic post the 1970s and 1980s, where graduates with an engineering background and further higher studies in finance and management were in demand. This can be attributed to the technological revolution and the mammoth tech companies it gave rise to. However in the last two decades or so, a new trend is becoming increasingly noticeable in the world of finance- The appointment of corporate lawyers to the position of CEO, COO, CTO, CFO, etc. Names such as Lloyd Blankfein, former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs and Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America along with many others, have paved the way into this new reality.

Corporate lawyers today are graduating with an acute understanding of multiple commercial sectors such as banking, insurance, international trade, antitrust, M&A, white collar crime and tax. Conglomerates and MNCs realize the multi-dimensional exposure that corporate lawyers graduate with. This coupled with the right experience and exposure can make them the most suitable candidates to take on top tier leadership positions.

Barker Gilmore, a renowned consultancy firm published a report showing that since 2010, 96% of public companies in America have a lawyer occupying a top executive management position. On the other hand around 57% of private companies now have a lawyer in their board of executive management. A.B Cruz III, a lawyer of repute who has worked as chief legal officer and general counsel across multiple industries, whose opinions can be found on the BarkerGilmore website, says that business strategy is one of the main areas of expertise in which companies expect their lawyers to be well versed in today.

Thus it can be said without a doubt that young lawyers who are joining companies and investment firms straight out of college, are exposing themselves to the functioning and strategy of a business and in turn making themselves stronger candidates to branch out into managerial roles with adequate experience. As of right now, there is a mad rush amongst Indian law students to join a handful of law firms that are termed as “Tier 1”.

Often not being able to secure a job at such a firm is seen as extremely disappointing and most students vow to gather enough experience to be in a better position to apply in the future. While staying steadfast on one’s journey to work for a dream firm cannot be discouraged it cannot come at the cost of missing out on other dynamic legal career trajectories.

Working with financial service companies or investment firms can provide a very comfortable salary, financial exposure, a better work life balance than firms and prospects of holding a high level managerial position before 40. A new practice which is gaining momentum amongst young lawyers now, is the decision to pursue courses like the 1 year MBA. 1 year full time MBAs or even executive part time MBAs are plugging the career gap and helping lawyers successfully transition into executive managerial roles or other career options like investment banking.

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