Misguided Big Law Lessons From a Harvard Law Study

, The Am Law Daily

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When smart people are determined to see things a certain way, facts get ignored and the truth becomes a casualty.

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    I am anxious to leave a comment--but have been unable to do so. Help!

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    Continuing: Why aren‘t accounting, financial statement analysis and corporate finance included in Harvard‘s core curriculum? Well, I assume the survey authors believe they should be--and I agree--just as I believe the core curriculum must be upgraded to include expanded clinical experience. (But this won’t happen—the internal political implications alone are overwhelming.) In any event, the student body clearly doesn’t agree, or the students would show up in greater numbers for those courses (or, at a minimum, offer far more generous course ratings).

    And why aren‘t accounting, financial statement analysis and corporate finance taught, intensively and hands-on (not in the traditional one-off bag-lunch setting), as part of the core BigLaw professional development curriculum offered? Well, largely because up front investment in associates is not a top goal at this time. Too much “discretionary” money, too soon. Non-essential talent development. (Also, think of the lost billables ….)

    Skadden is one of the very few firms to have figured out that business skills training (offered in the summer to all first years, via Fullbridge‘s four week program), in fact, ramps up productivity, work quality and sophistication, making its younger lawyers look much more like 2nd or 3rd years than newbies unworthy of a billable rate. Other firms are catching on—but so very slowly.

    There is no question in my mind that the sort of course that won the HLS popularity contest should be offered in every law school and at every corporate firm, to ensure that all business lawyers (in corporate and litigation alike) are financially literate---capable of understanding their client‘s business and industry, and –one day--of offering meaningful, real world advice and counsel. I would have sold my soul to have my " I‘m not good with numbers" associates trained in this fashion---and might have dramatically accelerated the growth of my own practice had I taken these courses as a naive first year, rather than learning on the job.

    Most importantly---these skills--learned well, and learned early, offer one of the few ways in which women and minority lawyers can catch up, much less get a proverbial leg up, BigLaw practice. Grossly underrepresented and under-advanced, women and minority lawyers must have business acumen and practical business skills to stand out in most practice areas. They must conquer any residual liberal arts angst around the "numbers". They need an edge--and they don‘t have time to learn it on the job. For many of them--the make or break (usually break) occurs in the first two or three years. But then this is another topic altogether, and too depressing for a Sunday afternoon.

    So--I truly welcome the publicity the survey generated, and the HLS faculty’s decision to publicize non-dispositive data. The legal press notices very little not directly sourced from the elite schools and elite firms, or from their graduates…however cantankerous.

    Betsy Munnell, EHMunnell (@BetsyMunnell)

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    Trying again: Steve,

    I agree with your take on the survey data, and that the only important message is embedded in the authors’ summary--- that “students should learn accounting and financial statement analysis, as well as corporate finance.” Nonetheless I am delighted to see the results get some play in the mainstream legal press--even if we owe this solely to their elite source. The skills emphasized in the highest ranked courses are, in fact, essential to success in large firm practice. And though you are correct that no one SHOULD need to poll a tiny sampling of large firm lawyers to draw that conclusion, this message has yet to reach the students –or faculty--at the feeder schools. In fact, only a tiny handful of BigLaw firms adequately target those skills in their professional development curricula. A new lawyer intent on being properly prepared on these counts would have to have a business B.A., a JD/MBA, or the time, drive and precocious good sense to take a few of Wharton’s 1st year courses (now taught for free in MOOC form).

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