November 25, 2011 4:28 pm

Learning the law business

When Vincent Doré was considering postgraduate studies, it was a toss-up between medical school and law school. The decision was made on practical considerations. “I am a little squeamish,” he confesses. And so he applied and was accepted at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, Toronto.

Then he faced a further decision. “Once I got into law school, I wondered what I would like to do after I became a lawyer,” he says. The answer was probably a career in the corporate world, hence his decision to enrol on the four-year Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration programme at York, which combines both a law and a business qualification.

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“I decided [combining business and law] would keep my options open and it would give me a broader education,” says Mr Doré.

He is one of an increasing number of law students who see the real value of combining the study of the two disciplines. For, as the big law firms increasingly behave like large global ­businesses, and the legal framework in which international businesses operate becomes increasingly complex, the schools that train their future bosses are having to incorporate those changes in their curricula – and in their relationships with other university departments.

“Business and law are more interconnected than we intuitively think,” says Mr Doré. And what is increasingly clear is that some of the most exciting developments in legal education are happening at the intersections of business, public policy and government.

Lawyers need business people and business people need lawyers, says Stephen Presser, who holds appointments at both the law and business schools at Northwestern University, near Chicago. “The regulatory environment is so incredibly invasive [for business]. And especially with the rise of private equity, business people know more than lawyers,” says Prof Presser. “While this is happening out there in the real world, it has taken the academy a long time to catch up.”

But catching up it is, if slowly.

It was about 15 years ago that Northwestern launched a JD/MBA that enables students to get both a business and a law degree in just three years. These days, such accelerated degrees are proving popular in the US and Canada, with top law and ­business schools co-operating at the universities of Yale, New York, Columbia and Indiana.

York University’s four-year programme will be taught in the Hennick Centre for Business and Law, which brings together professors from the university’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the Schulich School of Business.

“There’s a lot to be done at the intersection of law, business and public policy,” says Poonam Puri, associate dean for research, graduate studies and institutional relations at Osgoode Hall Law School. “Business people need to have a good understanding of legal frameworks.”

As well as joint law and MBA degrees, there are a growing number of LLM (Master of Laws) degrees – one-year degrees, studied by qualified lawyers – which specialise in business. IE Law School in Spain, for example, has five different LLMs, including a joint programme with Northwestern, several of which focus on business. And in France, L’Université Panthéon-Assas, the Sorbonne university’s law school, has developed an English-language LLM degree that taps into the business knowhow of Insead, the international business school.

It is a trend in Germany too, where Bucerius Law School in Hamburg and WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management, near Koblenz, are jointly teaching a one-year, English-language Master of Law and Business, combining aspects of ­international business law and international management.

Other schools are offering targeted LLMs in ­addition to the more traditional LLM degrees in tax and international law. Duke University in North Carolina, situated close to the Raleigh-Durham innovation park, has appointed Kip Frey, an entrepreneur, to run an LLM in law and entrepreneurship, for example.

The programme is needed because entrepreneurial companies work differently from traditional corporations, says Mr Frey.

“Not only does a lawyer have to understand the specific rules that come into play, they have to understand clients that behave ­differently,” he says.

Prof Presser at Northwestern believes law and business schools will continue to move closer together. “My feeling is that in 50 years we will see combined business schools and law schools,” he says.

In Europe, there are already some combined departments – at the ­universities of Portsmouth and Surrey in the UK, for example, and at the Esade ­business school in Barcelona, Spain.

For David Allen, dean of the faculty of ­business, economics and law at Surrey University, there is a clear interdependency, particularly in areas such as sustainability, regulation, governance, corporate social responsibility and ethics.

“We’re seeing people in law schools looking at the same problems that people in business school have been looking at,” he says.

“Lawyers are people who make the rules and the business people make it happen.”

So intrinsic is the link between law and ­business that degrees combining the two subjects are now emerging at undergraduate level. In Spain, Esade will launch a double degree in law and business from 2012 – the two undergraduate degrees will take five-and-a-half years to complete.

At Surrey, Prof Allen is looking to hire ­professors and lecturers who work in an inter­disciplinary way. He says the university will look favourably at collaborative research when research funding is allocated. At York in Canada, Prof Puri has gone one step further, launching a scheme of cash payments for research conducted jointly by professors from the two schools.

When Mr Doré completes his JD/MBA next year he will work as a corporate counsel in one of Canada’s largest companies while completing his articles. He admits that he initially wants to work as a corporate lawyer but his ambitions go further: eventually he hopes to sit on the corporate board.

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