Catskills and Candor at WMACCA
Top Execs Mixed on Lawyers as Biz People
Considering he is presumably worth billions, Carlyle founder David Rubenstein was disarmingly humble addressing 65 in-house counsel and guests Thursday at a WMACCA luncheon on the subject of lawyers as business leaders. "I was not a very good lawyer," he said. "If I were, I'd still be practicing."
So what lesson has Rubenstein learned about the transferability of legal skills to business since founding Carlyle 20 years ago? "The better the lawyer, the less likely you'll be successful in business," he said, arguing that good lawyers are too cautious for a business world that rewards bold and risk-taking behavior. And if you're not so good or satisfied at lawyering, he said, you might just find you’re quite good at business. He told of stumbling through Cravath; Paul Weiss; and Shaw Pittman. Eventually he learned that what he really enjoyed and was good at is what he does now.
No, this is not a police lineup, but WMACCA panelists: Washington Post CEO Bo Jones, Williams & Connolly litigator (and panel moderator) John Villa, and Carlyle founder David Rubenstein.
Rubenstein, 58, now head of one of the great private equity firms in the world, with $51 billion now under management and in control of companies with 200,000 employees, nonetheless renews his DC bar membership each year. Why? "My mother keeps saying she doesn't think Carlyle will make it." Plus, he says, "I'm amazed no CLE is required."
Rubenstein's fellow panelist, Washington Post CEO Bo Jones, was more upbeat about the suitability of the profession to business. He started at the Post in 1980 as a legal counsel and spent 15 years at it, although increasingly took on business responsibilities. "Going out to see advertisers is like being a litigator again," he said, saying he has to learn customers' businesses and develop a sense of empathy for them.
He also noted that Post founder Phil Graham was himself a Harvard Law Review president and Frankfurter clerk, and that Publisher Katherine Graham later said a Cravath lawyer who became Chairman of the Post in the 60s, Fritz Beebe, was one of the best things that ever happened to the paper. Jones also quoted his predecessor, Alan Spoon, as saying his legal training was more valuable to him than his MBA.
But Rubenstein could be forgiven for his sanguine view of lawyers. He drew appreciative gasps when he allowed as to how Carlyle pays $350 million a year for legal services from about 60 law firms.
Capital One's contingent at lunch included Assistant Counsels Sharon Johnson, Greg Seward, and Dina Davelle.
The two Chucks: NextTone's IP Counsel Chuck Buskey and Staubach's GC Chuck Straw
Marsh's Kathy Barlow and Northrop Grumman's Barbara Ianniello.
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