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Down to business - should lawyers do an MBA?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 19/05/15

How would you start a successful law firm? And, more crucially, how would you maintain it? One well-trodden path that the ambitious lawyer with dreams of starting their own law firm might take would be to build a wealth of real post-gradation experience through witnessing the inner workings of a firm first-hand.

However, another route is becoming popular; that of the MBA, or Masters in Business Administration. These courses offer cohesive programmes touching on multiple aspects of business structures and procedures. And how better to plug the current skills gap for business minds in the legal sector than to train these students year after year to tackle the challenges of directing their own organisations? It seems that having one of these qualifications under your belt would almost certainly give you the competitive edge against those only boasting experience as you can both confidently manage diverse areas of a business and easily understand the regulatory environment surrounding you.

But is this programme just a fast-track version of the traditional method of climbing your way up the ranks until you reach the top? And should lawyers have to be business-minded in order to succeed in a partnership position?

Now, some schools are offering MBAs directly attuned to the needs of lawyers. Take, for example, the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada. It states that the course will, “prepare [students] for leadership positions in private and public enterprise, government service, large corporations, and at management consultancies.” So, a good investment it seems.

But what would happen if these courses stopped being an added extra and became a requirement? Not everyone has the time or funding for up to an extra four or five years of study after they have qualified. Some might even argue that these courses will then run the risk of being deemed elitist for these very reasons.

One thing, though, remains clear. Learning business skills in any profession can never be a disadvantage, whether you learn in a classroom or through observing others. And whilst there is a global shortage of lawyers with business acumen, it is undeniable that being able to demonstrate this knowledge will stand you head and shoulders above the crowd when reaching for the top positions.