What wasn’t quoted from me in this piece in the Gazette a while back - which is here - is probably the most important lesson I learned from doing an MBA with non-lawyers. It taught me to respect and value the different skills of other management professionals, which lawyers have always under-rated .. and still do, although the gap is narrowing a little.
This hits me hard time and again in working with senior management in law firms across the country now because it’s more critical than ever during the current transition in the legal sector. Lawyers need to find a way to learn to respect the different but at least equally valuable skills and characteristics of professional managers who think and act differently – but it’s very difficult. It’s not surprising that lawyers don’t know … what they don’t know. It hasn’t been part of their training and development in legal life – so this has to change for the younger lawyers coming through; something we’re working on with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Legal Sector with a group of law firms focused on developing new skills.
What lawyers don’t know that they don’t know? The easiest current example is introduction of the likes of Mark Greenhouse here; another specialist in business processes like Lee Williams and Dominic Harborne, who can introduce effective initiatives to reduce a firm’s operating costs by 20%. They are worth more than most lawyers to a law firm – particularly today with ABS here to stay - but do lawyers accept that they can be as vital to a business as them? … are they prepared to pay fees equivalent to their charge out rates for them … or will they think they can do it better themselves?
Some of the best insights I got from my experience doing an MBA (at Manchester Business School between 1992 and 1995 having come through the usual route to qualification and private practice) came from people who are now MD’s, CEO’s, Operations Directors and similar in businesses in the UK, USA and Far East. They think quite differently from lawyers generally. Working on lieve projects for the NHS, at Hewlett Packard and similar was a vital part of my MBA, when we worked and met on projects at the weekend and during the week. Hard work but well worthwhile. That generated real respect for people with a quite different way of thinking and skills – not the people I would have worked with at university, law school or in practice.
However, it’s a sign of the conservatism within the legal sector that the vast majority of lawyers I meet in the UK with an MBA have done it within their comfort zone on a “legal MBA.” One which involves only lawyers or managers already working within law firms – which fails to deliver on items 3 and 4 above and dilutes the learning experience overall.
Within the last 12 months, this has begun to change – but lawyers who have improved their management skills alongside other lawyers still don’t value the skills and expertise of managers from other sectors (or indeed within their own established business) highly enough.