Law firms bring non-executives on board ahead of legal changes

by Julia Kollewe for The Guardian UK, November 1st, 2010.

Headhunters spot new trend in law firms hunting for directors with non-legal backgrounds as pressure over corporate governance increases.

Law firms have started hiring non-executive directors to bring in outside expertise as pressure mounts over standards of corporate governance. Unlike auditors, law firms are not required to appoint independent directors, but an increasing number are doing so voluntarily ahead of legislative changes next autumn.

The world’s four biggest accounting firms – KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and Deloitte – have recently appointed non-executive directors.

Now Anna Ponton and Stuart Morton, who head the business and professional services practice at executive headhunters Odgers Berndtson, have been instructed by two law firms to find directors with non-legal backgrounds to diversify their boards. “Eighteen months ago they all thought it was a pretty awful idea, but in the past year we’ve seen increasing interest,” said Ponton.

The pair believe this is the start of a trend that will see half of the top 20 legal firms in the UK appoint non-lawyers to their boards over the next two years. This is in part to improve skills following the financial crisis, but also comes ahead of regulatory changes which will have far-reaching ramifications on how law firms operate in Britain. (continue reading… )

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