Law Firms Focusing On Business

By Staff
May 22, 2009

Business courses which aim to strengthen management skills are being offered at a growing number of law firms.

The Wall Street Journal reports that law firms are investing in management education to address the widespread declining profits in law firms this past year. As a result, more firms are enrolling lawyers in executive education programs and business schools, and in turn, business schools are responding by creating new programs for lawyers.

"When you have the kind of challenges we have now, (you need) really well-trained, smart managers talking the same language," explained Kevin Fitzgerald, a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP who attended an executive education program at Harvard University in 2007. The program focuses on training lawyer-managers how to successfully lead firms, and will be attended by about six participants from Nixon Peabody this year.

Other schools are also offering business programs to lawyers: The Boston University School of Management offers a mini-MBA program for members of the Washington D.C.-based Association of Corporate Counsel, and George Washington University offers a degree program in law firm management in conjunction with the Hildebrandt Institute. This September, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business will run a business program for a large global firm with several thousand attorneys.

Law experts note that such programs are essential. "(Firms have) gotten big," explained James Bailey, a leadership professor at GWU who helps run the program. "They've gotten complex and don't have the management talent to run the large convoluted organization."

Many law schools recognized the importance of business education long ago. An article from U.S. News & World Report last year reported that the University of Virginia offers a specialized program in business and law, while Northwestern University offers a dual degree in the same subjects.

Although many attorneys are considering switching their careers to law firm management, The National Law Journal cautions that lawyers should be aware that "much of the nature of management work conflicts with the very things that make practicing law so appealing." The article notes that while lawyers enjoy seeing rapid and measurable results, managerial goals are long-term and difficult to measure.

"Lawyers need to understand," says the article, "how the demands and rewards of the new position may differ from those offered by their legal workload."

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