I had lunch with a lawyer friend recently who re-validated something I had known for awhile:
“Lawyers, because they work for and with business people, think that they’re good at business. Lawyers are NOT good business people.”
Accountants are guilty of this too, of course. However, the advantage that accountants have over lawyers is that they went to business school to understand business. Lawyers go to law school to understand the law.
Which of these educations is more valuable? Well, the job market in the U.S. says it wants accountants. Lots of them. It does not seem to want more lawyers.
Despite this, the fact remains enrollment in law schools, while slipping, will not evaporate any time soon. And this DealBook post reports that some law schools have realized that law students could be better served if they had some exposure to the dark arts of accounting, financial statement analysis and other business fundamentals:
A group of 170 Brooklyn Law School students cut short their winter break and headed back to campus in January for an intensive three-day training session. But not in the law.Instead, they spent the “boot camp” sessions learning about accounting principles, reading financial statements, valuing assets and other basics of the business world — subjects that not long ago were thought to have no place in classic law school education.
Brooklyn Law’s Dean Nicholas Allard is quoted, “Law firms were telling us that associates had no business literacy.”
And who better to educate young legal minds on accounting than some accountants, right?
For the boot camp, Brooklyn Law joined with Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, which had developed a program to give new hires at law firms some business background. The Deloitte team worked with John P. Oswald, chief executive of the investment and merchant bank Capital Trust Group. Mr. Oswald, a Brooklyn Law alumnus and board trustee, has financed the program for three years, helping to shape it for law students.“The programs law firms offer are very specific, but our program covers a broad diversity of topics, following a business from its inception, through various phases, including franchising and purchasing an overseas business,” said Mr. Oswald, who is also a certified public accountant.
The report lists Cornell and Maryland as other law schools that have started offering sessions on business basics. Maryland, in fact, now has a business track for its law students and it’s increased from 2 graduates in 2012 to 25 that are expected to graduate this year.
The DealBook piece goes on to say that most law schools don’t seem interested in changing their curriculum, however, “in part because first-year courses are seen as indispensable to legal learning and also because some professors typically resist teaching courses that seem vocational.”
Vocational? Like, a skill? God forbid lawyers take some practical knowledge with them into the real world.
I am most certainly biased, but educating law students with business fundamentals, especially accounting, sounds like a step in a right direction. Sure, it may not make a difference if they’re more prepared but if young lawyers can, at the very least, look at a balance sheet and not pass out, their clients and employers will appreciate that.