Business leaders and corporate headhunters agree that the JD is once again an alternative to the MBA as the degree of choice for CEO candidates, and that the trend is very likely to increase over the next decade.
If this happens some time soon, please let me know. I've got me one of them JDs in a waterlogged cardboard frame and I'd like to nab one of these CEO positions. I hear they pay well.
Meanwhile, today the good folks at JDUnderground pointed me to this windbag:
Look at the CEOs of all successful companies and you will see most have law degrees....
Guess what degree your boss' boss has? A law degree. He doesn't have one you say? Look further up the pyramid and I guarantee you will see one up there.
You guarantee, eh? Like that 97% employed guaranteed non-guarantee?
Because, apparently, mental children like to opine about these issues online, I'll refrain from saying what I'm thinking, which is "holy mother of titty-fucking juniper berries pouring out your ass," which makes much more sense than that comment about JD CEOs.
I decided to take "InflatedSnake's" advice and actually look at the CEOs of successful companies. I just started scrolling down the Fortune 500 list and marking down the CEOs I could quickly find educational information on, and occasionally skipping around or over companies that don't make drugs, bombs, or food. I got bored fairly quickly, but got enough to make some general observations. And by general observations, I mean "duh, derpity, duh tiddly tum."
For example, as far as I can tell, the following companies currently have CEOs without the gift of a Juris Doctor: 3M, Abbott Labs, ADM, Aetna, AIG, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Berkshire Hathaway, Best Buy, Boeing, Cardinal Health, Caterpillar, Chevron, Citigroup, Coca Cola, Comcast, ConocoPhillips, Dell, Disney, Dow Chem., DuPont, Express Scripts, Exxon, FedEx, Ford, General Dynamics, General Electric, General Motors, Google, Haliburton, Hess, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Humana, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Johnson Controls, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Lowe's, Macy, McDonalds, McKesson, Microsoft, Nationwide, Oracle, Pepsi, Pfizer, Phillip Morris, Phillips 66, Proctor and gamble, Prudential, Safeway, Sears, Sprint, Sysco, Target, Time Warner, UnitedHealth, UPS, United Tehnologies, Valero, Verizon, Walgreens, Walmart, WellPoint, Wells Fargo.
Oh god no! Oh this can't be happening! You're operating without a T-437, Springfield!
The following companies actually have a well-credentialed JD in charge: American Express, Bank of America, Cisco, Goldman Sachs, Home Depot, Kroger, Merck, MetLife, State Farm.
Obviously, there's high demand for the JD. Let's look at these individuals to glean general rules the fresh JD can follow to land that prime office space.
American Express's Kenneth Chenault went to Harvard, spent two years as an associate in a New York law firm, and then became a consultant at Bain.
Brian Moynihan of Bank of America worked for Edwards & Angell after law school (Notre Dame). He worked mostly for one client, Fleet, which he then parlayed into an in-house position in her early/mid-30s.
Cisco's John Chambers earned a law degree from West Virginia in 1974...and earned an MBA in 1975.
After just three years of tax practice, Lloyd Blankfein (Harvard JD) switched careers to be a precious metals salesman for one of Goldman Sachs's subsidiaries.
Frank Blake, now CEO of Home Depot, was a Supreme Court law clerk and a federal government attorney (general counsel for the EPA) before landing his in-house gig with General Electric. He went to Columbia.
David Dillon, outgoing CEO of Kroger, and SMU law alum, was simply born into the right family.
Kenneth Frazier was actually a litigator-turned-partner at Drinker Biddle Reath after earning his JD from Harvard. He represented Merck and then, prior to age 40, joined Merck.
As far as I can tell, Steve Kandarian of MetLife never did any sort of classical attorney work; in addition to his GULC law degree, he has an MBA from Harvard.
State Farm's Ed Rust, like his fellow SMU alumnus Dillon, was born with the right last name at the right company.
So of the nine I found who were Juris Doctors:
- Only five have actual practice experience
- Only four worked at private firms
- Only one or two appear to have significant litigation/trial experience
- The only two who were in private practice for more than five years jumped ship to a client
- Every single one was in-house or in a non-law position by age 43.
- Not one of them went to a private law school ranked outside the top 50 or a second-choice public.
Sure, JD-holders occasionally become CEOs. So do people with no degree at all. So do people who started at low-level positions. So do people who lived in Montana at some point in time. So do people with blond hair.
That doesn't mean the JD is what actually improved your chances for the position. Of course, Frazier and Moynihan needed the JD to represent the companies that would poach them, but is that really any different than any other skilled professional doing work for the company? And if the JD is really an awesome credential, why aren't the lawyers representing all these other companies getting poached left and right?
Better question: given that every large law firm in the country has a lawyer-CEO as a managing partner/President, why aren't large companies tapping these wizards to run their companies, if the JD has any level of equality or superiority to the MBA?
Why are successful private practice attorneys not regularly recruited to run companies? Where are the thirty-year practice veterans who take their management skills to corporate America?
The juris doctor is not now nor ever truly has been a degree that is designed for or assists in business management, and people who believe otherwise are living in a fantasy land.
It doesn't make any sense logically, and it doesn't have a lot of support empirically. In fact, it boggles the mind why anyone would think a law degree would make for a better CEO candidate. CEOs are supposed to be visionary and, in most cases, big-picture thinkers. CEOs have to be collaborative and delegate authority as most great executives do. They have to think about innovation and change. They're leaders. Attorneying is about minutiae and understanding/following multifaceted sets of rules and following long-established authorities. And lawyering also breeds micromanagement for a variety of reasons. And despite the claims of law school shills, there is very little leadership or management taught in law school.
Just because driven, smart people get the degree and driven, smart people happen to become CEOs does not mean the degree enhances one's prospects at being a CEO. If you can understand that basic rule of logic and statistics, you are probably in fair shape to get a degree that may actually matter (like, I don't know, a business degree).
I guess you can chalk this one up as an especially egregious version of the versatility fallacy. Getting a JD doesn't make it much more likely that you'll be a CEO, just as it doesn't make it much more likely that you'll be anything else except, well, a lawyer. Of the thousands upon thousands of lawyers practicing in large law firms in the 80s and 90s, only four of them are now CEOs at America's top 120 or so companies.
Far more are in prison. Far more are disbarred. Far more are dead before their time.
Should the law schools start claiming those results as versatile outcomes of getting a juris doctor? No?
Okay. Then stop the bullshit about Lawyer-CEOs. If you're an exceptional person who wants to be a CEO, your best bet at age 23 is to start working for the company and avoid law school.