By Anita Campbell
Editor’s Note: The following was written by Anita Campbell, Founder of Small Business Trends, in 2006 as part of an online event for legal bloggers, called Blawg Review. This explains how Anita Campbell transitioned from the legal world into the world of business.
As someone who is by education a lawyer and by vocation a businessperson, I firmly believe that businesspeople need to know about the law — and the more the better. And I also believe that lawyers can benefit from knowing more about business. Armed with knowledge, we are all better off.
I have not practiced law for a number of years now. People are often curious about how I came to focus on business rather than the law. Indulge me while I take a few moments to tell my story.
I grew up in a family of Italian immigrants and second generation Americans (it’s not only Supreme Court nominees who have the lock on immigrant heritage). We were encouraged to become doctors and lawyers.
I toyed with the idea of business school rather than law school. My scores on the GMAT for business school were outstanding (top 5%) but merely ordinary on the LSAT. However, ever the bootstrapper even back then, I opted for law school because it was much cheaper and I would not have to go deeply into debt.
My husband and I met in law school, where he was much more disciplined than I. Mostly I was bored in law school, and so I studied only as much as I had to.
That’s very different from today. Today I am extremely disciplined and enjoy working so much that I have to make myself stop or I would work well into the evening. That’s one clue that told me I was in the wrong line of work in the law, and that I was better suited to be in business: I just am more interested in business.
In law school I never distinguished myself at Moot Court or Mock Trial or Law Review. However, I did win the Client Counseling Competition. I was better at listening and observing and intuitively understanding the importance of small bits of information, than I was at arguing cases or understanding the nuances of evidentiary rules. Those listening and observation skills are ones that I have honed over the years. Indeed, they are skills that I put to good use today in spotting business trends.
Most of my legal career was spent in-house at corporations. I was never a “lawyer’s lawyer.” I was a “business person’s lawyer.”
While I was General Counsel for a unit of the Bell & Howell Company in the 1990s, perhaps my biggest accomplishment was the ability to understand business needs and organize a legal function to meet them.
I have hired and managed lawyers from literally hundreds of law firms in the United States and other countries — including some of the biggest law firms in the world: Jones Day, Clifford Chance, Arnold & Porter, to name a few.
Along the way I developed strong biases about what I expected from outside counsel. Those biases included a preference for:
- managing risk by settling litigation early rather than fighting to the death;
- contracts written in plain English rather than complex contracts filled with pretzel-logic defined terms; and
- preventative law through training of business people about legal issues.
Over the course of my career I gravitated more and more to the business side and farther away from the legal side. I spent more time with the business people than other lawyers (except my husband and our friends). Gradually I took on more and more responsibility for functions outside of the Law Department.
I was lucky to have as a mentor one of the founders of Lexis-Nexis (a non-lawyer) who encouraged me to take on new and different business roles. Eventually I became the CEO of a technology subsidiary of Bell & Howell.
Ultimately my pursuit of business brought me to the point where I had enough confidence to venture out to start my own businesses. I felt I could be more satisfied and achieve more with my own business than working in someone else’s. After a time I started this blog and … here we are today.
I am right where I want to be, focusing on business and building my own business.
Yet, my understanding of the law has — I am convinced — given me a major advantage in my business career. Knowledge of the law enables me to act swiftly and confidently in situations that confuse non-lawyers. My legal experience has brought an added dimension to my understanding of business, enabling me to make the right moves most of the time and stay out of unnecessary trouble. And the discipline of legal reasoning and problem solving, not to mention the careful respect for words that a legal education gives you, are simply invaluable in business.
Even though I love being a businesswoman, I am happy and proud to have received a legal education, to have been a lawyer, and to have worked with so many lawyers. Lawyers tend to operate on a high intellectual plane, and I enjoy trying to tag along.