An interesting discussion at The Conglomerate as to the readiness of law school graduates for the business world.

However this issue applies equally to graduates in many other fields. Medicine, dentistry, engineering, information technology; the list is extremely long.

Christine Hurt makes a good point about the fact that “law schools encourage the risk averse.”

I agree with that statement.

Many lawyers I have worked with, both internal and external, are more concerned with why something should not be done than in actually doing it. I understand that one has to move cautiously to avoid legal problems. But without assuming some level of business risk, nothing would ever get accomplished.

As a lawyer, one needs to understand business considerations and client goals.

The best lawyers I have dealt with realize this. Their view is, “How can we achieve our objectives in the best legal way possible?” Not, “Should we even be doing this?”

The same attitude can be seen in good engineers, doctors, geologists, auditors, etc.

Ms. Hurt goes on to make a further point that law schools should better,

identify, recruit and train law graduates that will have the confidence and personality to be “client-ready” at graduation. This may require changes in how we do law school, and also on how we do admissions.

An excellent recommendation, but one that I am pessimistic many universities will consider.

Larry Ribstein offers three thoughts on Ms. Hurt’s recommendation. In short, he believes that law students should be trained in legal entrepreneurship and basic business knowledge.

I agree fully for law students. In fact, every young adult should obtain training in basic business and finance skills. If the skills are not taught in the faculty, then you need to develop them on your own.

This may be why the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) is such a popular degree for students with degrees in non-business fields. Bringing together a specific technical expertise (e.g. Mechanical Engineering) with business skills is an extremely potent combination.

When I graduated from school, I had no interest in an auditing career. I wanted to be involved in business and investing. But I was taught that if I wanted to succeed in either endeavour, I had to better understand financial accounting, taxation, and business management.

So I became a Chartered Accountant (CA) to develop the skills necessary to run a business and properly invest.

I was able to work in the small business unit of Price Waterhouse. As such, I dealt with a wide variety of owner managed enterprises and small publicly traded companies. I saw what companies did right and, even better for learning, what they did wrong. Lessons learned here formed the basis for many of my own core business beliefs.

As an aside, if you want to become a CA and then run your own business someday, consider working in either the small business unit of a large accounting firm or with a smaller accounting firm. If hired by a multinational accounting company you may end up primarily auditing huge public companies. During my articling years, I knew students that spent their entire lives auditing only two or three clients. For me, that was a typical month.

So if you want diversity, consider a smaller firm or a small business department in a big one.

My knowledge of financial statements and tax matters became crucial later in life when I began to seriously invest. To properly analyze a company one needs to know what the historic financial data and forecasts mean. Like a doctor examining an x-ray.

In fact, when I undertook the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) programs, I found that having a strong accounting and tax base was extremely useful when passing the courses. Many non-accountant CFAs and/or CFPs that I know, needed to spend significant time getting up to speed on accounting related issues in order to achieve their designations. That was not an issue for me.

I am not saying that one needs to become an accountant or MBA to develop business skills, although they are great paths. Less time consuming and costly options are readily available.

Evening courses at a local university or technical institute. Seminars offered by professional organizations. E-learning programs. There are many excellent choices out there.

But if you do want to be able to manage your own business and/or become an invaluable asset to your boss or clients, develop some basic entrepreneurial and business skills.

The return on your investment of time and money will be worth it.

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