Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaching law students management skills

And speaking of the need for schools to think in non-traditional ways about legal skills training (see the post below), comes this article from the New York Law Journal called What They Didn't Teach You in Law School - Until Now: Building a management curriculum for lawyers by Professor Silvia Hodges. An excerpt:

In today's highly competitive legal market, it is imperative to bring more to the table than just excellent lawyering skills: an understanding of the business world and law firms as businesses. Clients are demanding it: The Association of Corporate Counsel's (ACC) Value Challenge has been urging law firms to reconnect the value and the cost of legal services since its start in 2007. The initiative is based on the concept that "law departments can use management practices that enhance the value of legal service spending; and that law firms can reduce their costs to corporate clients and still maintain strong profitability. The ACC Value Challenge promotes the adoption of management practices that allow all participants to achieve their key objectives."

Management practices? Traditionally, law students have graduated into the real world with little or no exposure to finance, economics, project and knowledge management, marketing and business development, or leading people: how businesses are actually run. And that's a terrible thing to do to them. "Given that AmLaw 200 firms are multi-hundred-million dollar per year enterprises, this naïveté can be dangerous to one's career," says legal industry commentator, Bruce MacEwen of Adam Smith Esq., LLC.

After all, the most solid foundation for figuring out what partners really want from you is to understand what you can do for them; they're the owners and they take home the profits. If you don't understand the connection between that and what you do as a lawyer, I wish you luck.

. . . .

No matter how we slice it, law school graduates today face a very complex and challenging market. To have a chance at success, these future lawyers need the tools to enable them, in time, to run law firms as businesses. Law schools have been criticized for not teaching lawyers practical lawyering skills. So let's equip them with the right tools. I started teaching the 2-credit electives "Law Firm as a Business" and "Law Firm Marketing" at Fordham Law School in spring 2010. The reaction I typically get to the concept of management education for lawyers is very positive. I hear variations of "There is a crying need for it." "I wish I could have taken your class." And "I'm surprised that no one has come up with this idea. Makes so much sense."

Yes, it makes so much sense. Some law schools, including Harvard, Fordham, Georgetown, Indiana, Hofstra, Pace, Temple, and George Washington University (GWU) offer courses on law firm/practice management within their JD programs. GWU's College of Professional Studies offers a master's degree in law practice management, and the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law offers an MS in legal administration. More and more law firms train their lawyers in practice management or project management skills. Milbank even sends entire classes of its associates to Harvard. This is very laudable, but I wish the majority of lawyers wouldn't graduate, practice, and become partners without having had any type of formal management education (and understanding).

The challenge is that lawyers have traditionally not thought management is particularly important. And it's not always easy to convince them they should learn something new. But, we don't know what we don't know. A friend of mine said it's "like the 12 step program: You have to admit that you have a problem." And who wants to admit that? What's more, even if one decides to give management training a go, there's the time commitment. If you have to bill, bill, bill, when would you have the "luxury" to take a moment and take an MBA-type class?

It's about showing people what's in it for them. Build "transition" courses that help them do their jobs better (just because someone is good at client work doesn't mean they have the necessary management skills to qualify them to lead a team). For example, senior associates on the verge of becoming (junior) partners need to focus on project and knowledge management, marketing and business development. Partners who are to be promoted to head a practice or regional office benefit from more project management in addition to leadership courses. Second- and third-year associates? Introductory courses on business and finance fundamentals, project management. And so on. At some point in their careers, lawyers should have touched all areas of managerial challenges and approaches necessary for success, including finance and law firm economics, marketing and business development, knowledge management and project management, leading and developing people.

Continue reading here.


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