Should universities teach the business of law?

Universities set a foundation on which students can build their careers, providing a theoretical understanding of a particular subject area which allows them to have the knowledge and soft skills required to push into a particular sector. For legal, most law students either undertake the LLB or GDL which sets the scene for the history of law and how the law operates. However, there is a debate around whether universities should provide more practical skills – like an understanding of the business of law.

A significant number of law graduates will be studying it in the hope of one day becoming a lawyer. For those that are pursuing that path it would be useful to study practical elements like the business of law – ultimately how law firms operate and how they make their money.

It would be useful to provide students with this so they not only have a grounding in black letter law but also an understanding of the commercial environment lawyers work in. Solicitors and Barristers both work in very different environments and even within law firms there is a much greater range in how those settings price their services and offer client value.

Law at undergraduate level tends to be around the mechanics of law – how it operates, how its interpreted and how decisions are ultimately made in the courts. More practical skills tend to be shifted towards modules with limited capacity (e.g. pro bono projects) or shifted to postgraduate entirely. While universities may argue that students may not know where they are heading at undergraduate level, there is clearly a benefit in having more practical skills at an earlier stage.

For those that become lawyers it may not be that long (in terms of years) until they are in a position where they need to the commercial aspects of running a law firm. Having an understanding of what is happening in the market is clearly something that would give them food for thought on how to effectively provide client value in good times and bad.

On top of that, and with technology becoming a huge topic in the sector, having an understanding of how the legal business makes its money means legal tech implementation is easier to grasp by understanding stakeholder needs more clearly. Having more people understand why law firms or other legal organisations would implement technology and how it impacts the business commercially (e.g. what would the RoI be) would also set the scene for many more legal ops professionals.

All in all, there is a need for universities to provide some practical insight into the business of law. Professionals in the sector could ‘give back’ by providing more talks to students or the university itself could engages students with new modules. There are other solutions no doubt but it is likely higher education can’t provide this without at least some external support from industry.

We need to nurture the next generation of ‘commercially aware’ and ‘tech-savvy’ professionals to drive the sector forward.

Marc May

Photo by Markus Spiske

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