I have worked with several law firms through my consulting business and observed some differences with my previous career as an RAF fighter pilot. Lawyers don’t sit strapped to their office chair breathing oxygen through a tube, or if they do, they tend to keep it quiet. Fighter pilots settle differences of opinion, not through intellectual jousting, but by shooting each other down. I could go on…
However, the big difference is in the issue of selection, development and promotion. People become lawyers for a myriad of reasons, almost certainly including a natural interest in the subject area, enjoyment of intellectual challenge, and attraction of the financial rewards. Junior lawyers want to become partners because then they will work on the biggest, most challenging cases, the role carries a lot of kudos, and you receive the highest remuneration. The reasons for wanting to be a partner do not necessarily include the desire to take on a wider management or leadership role, which is exactly what comes with the territory. Add to this a scenario where all the major shareholders come into the office every day (imagine running GE like that), the managing partner is often a first among equals and major decisions all require committee endorsement. This environment is going to have some leadership and management challenges.
The military solution is simple: to identify and develop future team players and leaders from day one, and to regard best- in- class functional competence simply as an essential requirement – something that goes with the territory. An individual may join because she wants to be a fighter pilot, but whether she likes it or not, she gets a thorough and career- long grounding in leadership and followership, and high performance against these criteria is essential for advancement. Officer first; pilot second.
Would a lawyer make a good fighter pilot? Only if they are prepared to be a good officer first.