Nancy May: President & CEO, The BoardBench Companies
#BakersDozen is a series of interviews with leading professionals in the fields of law, consulting, finance, tech, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in the legal business?
I’m not a lawyer but do work with a GCs on several fronts in the boardroom with regards to board composition, compensation, evaluations, and board performance. I also coach those who want to become directors on what they need to do to achieve success to secure a seat at the table.
What do you do for a living right now?
Board governance and director coaching.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
Working with several clients to find and secure their first female corporate directors, and having them (the men) just relish in their success in doing so.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
Not sure I’m qualified to answer this but I do think that lawyers have to become more oriented to how their companies and client corporations operate. How to they can succeed through organic growth NOT just acquisition or divestitures, and how to keep business out of trouble vs. building solutions to better profitable outcomes.
You’re known for innovation and have been an inspiration to many. Who inspires you – and why?
Those who are contrarians and protest against the rising tide of conformity. Too many just follow the blind leader and don’t know why other than the “guy” next to them is doing the same.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
Be creative; ask why someone went into the field and if they are truly challenged and happy. Then decide how they can use the profession to make positive and profound change in business, industry, and politics.
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
Generally, I think that lawyers are not terribly adaptive. Most live by the rule of president. Which means that someone has had to have “been there, and done that” before them. Watson and Google’s Big Brain could be your next GC.
In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
The legal profession changes slowly, as do many industries. Being that most firms are partnerships and that the retiring partners personal wellbeing is reliant on the next generation, the rate of change that they are comfortable with may be slower than most might expect. Clients are also pushing for change but their change is first focused on cutting expenses – unless they’re in deep hot water. Cutting expenses vs. partnering with another industry, will impede the speed evolution or progressive shifts.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
Lawyers want to keep business away from consultants, and visa vera. I’ve seen a number of situations that have impeded a client’s success because they relied too much on their law firm vs. taking a more practical shorter approach with a consultant.
Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
Out of the law firms? If a firm reports to its outside investors (i.e. shareholders vs. clients) than I think that could potentially open a can of worms. I know that it’s being tested elsewhere, but like insurance companies that demutualized, the outcome has been great for the senior management but not so for many of the policy holders. Lawyers have to decide what they’re in the business of doing and for what purpose.
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
Young groups of lawyers working with business professionals who want to, collectively, test new grounds for/with clients. Like the way young tech companies have done so in Silicon Valley
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
Not sure. Think some lawyers see it that way though .
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
The education system of how lawyers are taught and trained. If the education of young lawyers doesn’t progress and test new models, how can you expect the profession itself to push/test for change.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
To think and behave differently. Many corporations are looking for ways to not have to bring in the top guns. The smaller firms are winning the bulk of the daily work. The big firms, to survive, have got to become more nimble and progressive. Speed, innovation, accuracy, challenging old/different ways. But, at whose expense – will be the question.
Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
Yes. Many young women and minorities are interested in the profession. They have to be as sensitive to bias, and aware of it in the firms, as their clients say they are being. Lead the way for the client and they may follow by your side. Take the lead – not something most lawyers do. But the next gen wants to try.
Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
Again, not sure. Don’t typically follow lawyers as leaders. LOL
If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
Not sure. I might test new options faster.
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
NO! Most lawyers are about as good business folks as doctors.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Something in the sports world
What would you like to be known for?
Making one more person smile and know they too have contributed to the joy of others, when I leave this earth.
What would surprise everyone if they knew?
I ride motorcycles (just sold mine though due to too many txting. I love sporting clays and trap shooting. Have created my own holiday greeting cards for the last 25 years.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
What’s your favorite sports team?
The winning underdog.
Whats your favorite city?
New York and Paris
What’s your favorite food?
Sushi and anything that’s fresh and different.
Whats your nickname – and why?
Don’t really have one. My parents called me Nanc (Nancy without the y). Other than that, I was called Carrot Top as a child as I had bright red hair.
Nancy May is President and CEO of The BoardBench Companies, a corporate governance advisory firm whose services includes: director search/succession services, board evaluations, director education, and individual director candidate coaching advisory services.