Where are the law schools?

My post today – Where are the law schools? – is prompted by this media release ‘College of Law to Introduce Australia’s First Master of Legal Business Degree’.

Corporate law departments and clients generally are under a rising wave of pressure to do more with less. From their law firms they want faster, better, cheaper service with more efficient, predictable, cost-effective, agile delivery of legal services.

Research tells us that almost all law firms are finding innovating to meet these demands an uphill battle for the well understood reasons of reluctance to take risks because of a lack of real balance sheets and their compensation systems.

But there’s an even bigger problem. There are simply far too few effective managers and leaders in the legal profession. Take for example these comments by clients about law firms: “There is no one leading their charge, no co-ordination”, “They do not seem to have a sense of direction; this means we look around because we need long-term security of supply”, and “The firm lacks leadership and at times this demotivates their lawyers; I suspect we’d get more discretionary effort from them if it was different”. This commentary isn’t intended as a generalisation. And equally many complimentary words are spoken, but it is indicative of an elephant in the room: The future of the legal profession will be decided by business leaders, not lawyers.

Where are the law schools?

Few, if any, have started to prepare students for the rapidly changing legal services world that is upon us. US research on lawyers with up to seven years post-qualification experience shows the most significant shortcoming of their legal education is lack of training in business skills. I have no doubt the same is true in Australia. Employers of law graduates still strongly favour those with strong academic performance. Combined with the fact that law schools are judged on academic standards, this creates a self-perpetuating cycle with little incentive to change.

There are exceptions, pioneers such as Professor Bill Henderson of the Indiana University Law School who says “legal education and the legal profession are at an inflection point where traditional models of education and practice no longer fit the shifting needs of the market”. His Institute for the Future of Law Practice prepares graduates with a boot camp in accounting, finance, industry analysis, legal operations (data, process, technology, design), teamwork, communication, collaboration, feedback and leadership.

Different skills

Australia, like the US, Germany and Spain, has a growing number of short courses and single subjects, e.g. Bond University offers The Digital Lawyer, QUT offers NewLaw, Technology and Innovation, the University of Melbourne offers New Technology Law, and UWA offers Legal APPtitude to build AI applications. Some law schools work with The Legal Forecast (TLF), a national not-for-profit run by creatively-minded law students and early career professionals seeking better ways to teach, practice and deliver law with a strong flavour of A2J. In effect TLF is taking things into their own hands to help fill the vacuum.

Significantly, the College of Law with its Australia and New Zealand-wide coverage has announced a 12 subject Master of Legal Business degree launching next early year and open to lawyers, general managers and functional specialists in private practice, corporate law departments, legal aid and the courts.

While law schools continue to focus on traditional legal knowledge, transforming traditional firms and law departments and the new forms of legal services delivery require different skills. There are yawning gaps between demand and the supply of lawyers and functional specialists trained in management and leadership.

The challenge is how to attract, educate, train, and scale to fill the gaps. Law schools must play catch up.


Dr George Beaton is executive chairman of Beaton Research + Consulting. He has been appointed chairman of the College of Law’s Program Board for the Master of Legal Business degree.

Where are the law schools? was first published on September 28, 2018 in The Australian Financial Review with the headline When will legal education catch the leadership wave?

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[…] Where are the law schools? my post marking the announcement by the College of Law (Australasia) of the introduction of the Master of Legal Business. […]