Lawyers Mean Business
While the majority of law school graduates become practicing lawyers and judges, a 2004 National Association of Law Placement study reveals that 31 percent are taking their law degrees into business, industry, government (including the military), nonprofit entities, public interest work and other occupations.
In addition, many lawyers who start their careers in traditional practices eventually move into business, or practice in-house and move up to the top levels of corporate leadership.
The following University of Idaho College of Law alumni are illustrative of lawyers rising to the top of the business world.
Dennis Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Heritage Financial Group, a multi-state insurance company headquartered in Meridian. Johnson (’79) and his company established the United Heritage Fund as part of the Idaho Community Foundation, to provide financial contributions to non-profit groups. He also has served on the Board of Directors of the Idaho Public Employees Retirement System, and served as chairman of the board and executive committee member for the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. Johnson earned the university’s Silver and Gold Award in 2008.
“From my perspective, there are many jobs in industry that require or benefit from a legal education,” said Johnson. “The insurance industry is rooted in contract law. What we sell are promises, and those promises are outlined in contracts. Even though I am not working in a traditional legal job, my law degree benefits me and my corporation because of the nature of the product we sell.
“Due to the intertwining of business and law in America, the benefit of having business leaders with legal educations is recognized by many boards of directors.”
Lucinda Weiss, past associate general counsel of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, in Akron, Ohio. Weiss (’73), is one of the first 50 women to be admitted to the Idaho State Bar, the first female corporate lawyer in the tire industry, the first woman to be appointed to the head of the law department of a Goodyear subsidiary, and the first attorney of either gender to make the transition from attorney to executive management position. Weiss served five years as director of Goodyear’s real estate division. While at Goodyear, she also established the “Women’s Initiatives in Leadership,” providing professional mentoring to women in the company. Late in her career, she led Goodyear’s ethics and compliance program. Weiss received the College of Law Faculty Award of Legal Merit in 2007.
“Legal education traditionally provides training in research skills, analytical skills, critical thinking, persuasion, and to some degree judgment,” said Weiss. “Those are skills that are useful, and in some cases essential, to countless sorts of tasks, ventures and challenges that the world confronts.”
Dennis Wheeler, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation. Coeur d’Alene Mines is one of the world’s leading silver companies and a significant gold producer. Wheeler holds both law (‘67) and business degrees from the University of Idaho. His company currently is constructing two of the world’s largest silver mines, one in Bolivia and another in Mexico, and also operates two underground mines in Chile and Argentina and a surface mine in Nevada. The company owns a major gold project in Alaska, and operating interests in two low-cost mines in Australia. Coeur d’Alene Mines conducts exploration activities in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Tanzania. During his career, Wheeler has moved from the office of general counsel to the company’s top leadership position, utilizing a combination of legal expertise and business management skills. Wheeler was inducted into the University of Idaho Hall of fame in 1998.