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Collaboration makes lawyers true leaders

Working with your adversaries can benefit all parties

In this month’s cover story, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi describes the ways in which she has advocated on behalf of the people of her state. Looked at quickly, it would appear that her career—built on her experience as a prosecutor—has consisted of successfully taking on one big, powerful entity after another: banks, drug companies, the medical establishment and Big Oil, to name a few. But the truth is, she’s “taken on” no one. The secret of her success is not an adversarial approach. It’s a commitment to collaboration, to working closely with those who, on the surface, might seem to have opposing goals and find the middle ground that benefits all parties.        

In the conversation Bondi had with an InsideCounsel reporter, her commitment to collaboration was apparent. “We sat in a huge conference room, and I brought in all the stakeholders,” she said, explaining how she made sure her constituents got the money coming to them through the national mortgage settlement. “I ended up hiring one of the Democrats to run my pill mills initiative,” she said, talking about her successful efforts to stop prescription drug abuse in Florida. “We’re partnering with the oil companies, the hotel industry, the trucking industry,” she said, describing her efforts to curtail human trafficking, not only in Florida but across the country.

“I’ve got the power,” Bondi told InsideCounsel, “but it’s really a responsibility.” Though she was, at the time, talking about her ability to outlaw synthetic drugs with “the stroke of a pen,” she could just as easily have been describing her overall approach to her job. She’s got the power, but she understands that the best way to wield it is through compromise and collaboration, by working closely with government—regardless of party affiliation—and, perhaps more importantly, by working with the companies that are doing business with and in Florida.

Collaboration is what makes lawyers true leaders—their ability to shake hands, sit down and talk with their adversaries about the broader and more expansive view of how to get things done, both proactively and reactively.

Of course, if Bondi’s approach were the norm, it’s unlikely she would have graced our cover this month. The sad truth is that her form of leadership is rare. But maybe, as her story—and others like it—gets told, the lessons she has to teach will resonate far and wide, and make a difference.

Look for similar stories—and inspiration—in the months to come.

Lloyd M. Johnson Jr.

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