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In-house Access Insight & Commentary for In-House Counsel Worldwide

Lessons for the Corporate Law Department From Hamilton

Posted in The Next Level: QuickTakes on LDM

Guest blogger: Stephen Roth is vice president & general counsel of Jewelry Television, a national jewelry retailer. The views in this post are his and do not reflect the views of ACC or Jewelry Television. He is also vice-chair of the ACC Law Department Management Committee.

A few weeks ago, my oldest daughter came home from tennis practice, where her doubles partner had introduced her to the soundtrack of the Broadway smash, “Hamilton: An American Musical.” She downloaded it from Spotify, and the music began echoing through our house. I had heard about the Tony Award-winning musical, of course, but until then, I had never listened to the music.

It didn’t take me long to understand what all the fuss was about — and to see that Hamilton is replete not only with original, inspiring music, but also numerous lessons on leadership for law department leaders.

Like the musical, this post will be a little out of the box. My intention is that you’ll interact with the music, and by clicking on the links below, you’ll discover what it has to teach you. Now, a word about the lyrics. This is a hip-hop musical, so it’s not Rogers and Hammerstein. Hamilton’s edges are a little rougher. If the lyrics in a song are on the salty side, I’ll let you know.

So ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. It’s time to raise the curtain on Law Department Leadership Lessons from Hamilton.

Hamilton

Get ready to work hard.

You can’t dress it up. Leading a law department isn’t about leaning back and letting others do the heavy lifting. As you assume a leadership role, you become responsible for a host of issues that you weren’t dealing with before, such as vision and strategy, hiring and firing, and communications. Alexander Hamilton was tireless.

In his early life, he faced some stark choices. He was born in the Caribbean. His father left the family, his mother died, and another family embraced him. He went to work as a clerk in a trading company where he excelled. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was George Washington’s right-hand. After the war, he returned to his legal studies and completed three years of course work in seven months. He wrote 51 of the 85 editions of the Federalist Papers in six months. As treasury secretary, he invented a financial system. The list of accomplishments is staggering.

Stephen Roth VP & General Counsel Jewelry Television

Stephen Roth
VP & General Counsel
Jewelry Television

In the song “Non-Stop,” we learn about Hamilton’s style, which was to hold nothing back and to leave it all on the field.

When the door opens, step through it.

After the seemingly endless challenges of his childhood, Hamilton comes to New York, determined to climb the ladder. In “My Shot” (salty language advisory), he sings of his determination to use all his energies to rise above the chaos of his early life.

Some opportunities are offered. Others, we create. Sometimes, they glimmer into existence from an intuition. The question is what we do when those doors open. Do we raise our hand and walk forward or do we hesitate and doubt?

Many of us (myself included) feel we aren’t ready for an opportunity unless we’ve mastered every skill required for the job. That approach is usually wrong. Do you know the essentials of what you’ll need to do? Are you committed to learning the rest and do you have the energy to follow through?

If the response to these questions is “yes,” then that’s also the answer to the opportunity. Don’t throw away your shot.

Be good to yourself.

Hamilton understood persistence and hard work, but he didn’t have a clue about balance. The very thought of rest seemed anathema to him. Several times, Hamilton worked himself into near exhaustion. The musical depicts this pattern (and the attendant loss of judgment) as leading to one of Hamilton’s biggest mistakes — his affair with Maria Reynolds. In “Take a Break,” Hamilton’s wife Eliza implores him to take a family vacation. He says “no,” but ends up saying “yes” to an affair that would tarnish his career and limit his influence.

Focus and persistent hard work are important, but becoming a workaholic is inevitably corrosive. It so often compromises our health and strains our relationships — perhaps not right away. Eventually, there is a reckoning. We must find ways to recharge — mentally, spiritually, and physically. In the words of Vince Lombardi: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Now, it’s time for intermission. We’ll take a short break until my next post when we’ll discuss five more leadership lessons from Hamilton. Join me in a couple of weeks for the second act.