June 15, 2011
Possible Lessons from Business Education for Legal Education
The Economist has two stories that caught my eye this morning. The first is Tutors to the world: Business schools are globalising at a furious pace—which is largely a good thing. The article explains that business schools (graduate programs providing the MBA) are expanding and growing globally. While those schools are increasing their reach, they also run the risk of diluting the quality of education. Still,
the benefits of global business education far outweigh the costs. Business is globalising: the proportion of the world’s largest 500 firms that hail from emerging markets has doubled in five years, from 8.2% in 2005 to 17.4% in 2010. Business schools have no choice but to follow suit.
The article further notes that as business education takes a more global focus, it is becoming decidely "less American." That may or may not be a good thing, but my sense is that many think it is a postive turn.
The second is The Race to the Bottom, which reports that undergraduate "business studies" students are "according to a long article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, by far the idlest and most ignorant." The article continues:
What accounts for this educational wasteland? To some extent it is a matter of self-selection. Many people choose business studies precisely because they don't have a lot going on upstairs. And they prefer to spend their time networking and looking for jobs rather than, say, grappling with Schumpeter's ideas about business cycles. But universities also bear some of the blame. Many universities have treated business studies as a cash cow: there is lots of demand, business students do not require expensive laboratories, and business academics can supplement their incomes with outside consultancy. Business studies is also a mish-mash of subjects, many of them soft and ill-defined, like leadership and business ethics. It is notable that students who focus on “hard” subjects, such as finance, put in much more work than those who study “leadership” and the like.
(1) Are business schools that different from law schools? On the one hand, of course they are. Business is viewed globally, while law is (often) viewed locally (see, e.g. licensing requirements). As such, requirements and processes for students tend to vary (I think) much more significantly in law than in business from country to country. But as most of us know, the law is constantly becoming less local and more global. If business leaders are taking a global approach, it means they will need global counsel. Local counsel in every jurisdiction still works okay for litigation (it seems to me), but it doesn't work as well for transactional work. Good counsel understands the appliable legal regime as well as their client's business goals. As such, law schools need to work to keep up, and so do law firms.
Just adding a Singapore office doesn't make a firm any more global than a summer program in Greece or Norway makes a law school global. (I say this as someone who took and benefitted greatly from a summer law school program overseas.) It's what happens in those locations, who is part of what happens, and what comes back to the school/firm that matters. Just having the location is mostly marketing unless there is some real integration.
(2) Might student's choices of course be as telling in law school as it appears to be in undergraduate schools? Law students are often thought to "grade shop" and perhaps "effort shop" for courses that are likely to lead to good grades/less work. I don't know these "shopping" problems are as pervasive as some think, but it's worth trying to find out. (And I'm working on that.) Either way, it's worth knowing if there is a correlation between course choices and performance, both in school and beyond.
Interesting post, Josh. My first thought is, "at what cost?" Both topics, business and law, are very broad subjects and the idea of globalizing continues that expansion and possible dilution.
My concern revolves around the wealth of knowledge one is required to have to be "good" at their job in a local profession, let alone a globalized profession. Does one become an expert in one particular subject, or a "jack-of-all-trades"? Unfortunately for employers, the globalized, experienced skill set is either nonexistent and needs to be trained (which is costly), or high-priced and in short supply.
I feel that its a very delicate balance. Naturally anyone is capable of becoming a very well-rounded professional but like anything this requires a vast amount of time and effort. Both of which, as you are well aware, are in short supply in school.
As for your comments on grade shopping in law school, it seems to me that there is currently a problem in this country with the legal education system. Too many law students are being produced, ability aside. The economy is not helping anything, but there seems to be a very large glut of legal minds and not enough legal work (viable, paying work that is). I am sure that this will change when 'times are better', but this may be a good time for the law schools to crack down (or raise, if you will) on standards. This could possibly deminish the concept of grade shopping. Of course I have the luxory of having finished my education while saying this!
I'm curious on your thoughts about the current standards in place for a legal education.
Posted by: Sam S | Jun 17, 2011 9:02:28 AM