"We should have an attorney on the board." It's conventional wisdom we've all heard. We expect that an attorney would bring legal expertise (so we wouldn't have to pay a lawyer) and that she'll have a skill set, personality, and community stature that would benefit our organization. Attorney Mark J.Goldstein of Milwaukee shares some thoughts . . .
Not all attorneys are wise, expert, facilitative, financially generous and well regarded. (You knew that!) With more than one million lawyers and 196 law schools in the United States, it may be hard to find the Abraham Lincoln's and Atticus Finch's of the profession. As a result, and because a board's success depends upon its gestalt as much as the traits of its individual members,boards should think a bit about the contributions an attorney might make:
Advantages of having an attorney on the board
1. Professionalism, conscientiousness, attention to detail. Notwithstanding all the lawyer jokes, attorneys are learned professionals. They are typically detail-oriented, conscientious, and risk-averse. Many are citizens and activists committed to doing the right thing (admittedly a fluid concept). Such an attorney is an asset to any board.
2. Legal knowledge and skills. Attorneys are trained in law school to take in legal and factual information, to analyze that information, and to make recommendations based upon fact, law, financial risk, and other factors. There are many instances where--short of serving as the organization's attorney--this point of view can be very helpful.
Disadvantages of having an attorney on the board
1. The wrong specialty. The constantly increasing rules and regulations mean that the law is far more specialized than ever before. How helpful will an intellectual property attorney be with respect to nonprofit lobbying rules? What might a real estate attorney contribute to a discussion on... Read more