Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Does an MBA provide commercial training for lawyers?

Does an MBA provide commercial training for lawyers?


As the need for lawyers to develop their business skills grows, Dr Sara Ward asks whether further education is a solution

Through sweat and study, tears and triumph, you became a lawyer after years of unwavering efforts. It was a fair old slog, but it is now all in the past. The days of the lecture theatre are long behind you, and you are now an experienced legal professional.

Sure, there is ongoing updating to your area of specialism and new initiatives as you move through the upper echelons of the industry, but for all intents and purposes, your studying days are over.

Or are they?

What if you could add new strings to your professional bow from outside the legal industry, complementing sector knowledge with broader business skills? What would entice legal professionals to commit time and energy to study something that, on the face of it, was not directly relevant to life as a successful lawyer? In short, would it be worth it for lawyers to consider doing a master of business administration (MBA)?

A professional degree

MBAs, developed in the early 20th century in the US, are considered a 'professional degree' taken up by senior managers as their career progresses. Typically, course content covers what you might expect for captains of industry: accounting, finance, marketing, HR, and operations, all relevant to management analysis and strategy. Valuable skills - no doubt - but ones not necessarily associated with legal professionals. Business analysts, directors, entrepreneurs, management consultants? Sure. Lawyers and solicitors? Maybe.

Colleagues within Manchester Law School work closely with counterparts in the business school, a regional leader in industry-relevant knowledge exchange with small and medium-sized enterprises and multinationals. The business school, in partnership with the law school, helps to drive the regional economy through its enterprise and training innovation.

MBAs have long been revered in the business world, where they are highly regarded in senior level management education to fine-tune leadership acumen. But why would a legal professional be attracted to this?

Taking an ABS lead

The thinking goes that these industry-spanning skills could be used for professional-levelled training in the legal industry. A business-focused MBA can help to future-proof an evolving legal sector, where legal and commercial lines are increasingly blurred. One only has to look at new entrants into the market and alternative business structures (ABS) to see the commercial frontiers for the profession. Deregulation introduces new considerations, but clients' expectations remain the same. ABS firms count senior business professionals among their leadership teams, while traditional partner-led firms are involved in day-to-day commercial decisions. The MBA offers a programme of learning on key business administration issues. It also offers the opportunity to learn and network with leaders from
other industries, enhancing
and developing business leadership skills.

As senior lecturer, Catherine Shephard has previously argued in another of our Solicitors Journal columns that management training is
not high on the list of priorities in the legal profession. She argues that lawyer training should feature management credibility because what worked before is not necessarily fit for purpose now.

Ever-closer union of the business and legal worlds will demand professionals with these skillsets. The MBA can bridge this gap, decoding the spreadsheet for the solicitor and affidavit for the analyst. Deregulation is bringing these two worlds together with increasing frequency and, as
the old saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

It is not just the legal industry that is experiencing change; it is the same for firms' clients. Since the recession of 2008, many companies have changed and evolved. A greater insight from firms could help lawyers to 'speak the language of the boardroom'. An MBA can give lawyers a better understanding of the client, helping them to identify more readily. A sound knowledge of clients' issues has obvious benefits.

Obviously, an MBA isn't for everyone and may be more relevant to certain areas of the legal industry than others…
but it is certainly worth considering.

Dr Sara Ward is MBA and executive programmes director at the faculty of business and law, Manchester Metropolitan University @MBAMMU