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Adding non-legal qualifications to your skill set can help you stand out from the pack and future-proof your career.

The business world is full to the brim with lawyers. Blink and you’ll miss another “newlaw” firm launch promising “tech-driven solutions”. But with 33,245 solicitors in NSW, and one third of those solicitors aged between 30 and 40 (according to Practising Solicitor Statistics published by the Law Society of NSW in December 2018), the practical reality is that we are seeing many lawyers jostling for position in a market that is largely homogenous in its skillset and relatively young. Add to this the constant march of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation and we have ourselves a Molotov cocktail of change waiting to ignite.

In a profession ripe for change, some lawyers have gone down the route of obtaining non-legal qualifications, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or other qualifications related to their chief practice area to help them stand out from the pack and future-proof their careers.

The case for business qualifications

We can attribute some of the problems around this bland approach to legal services to the curriculum of our university law schools. Law students are educated in core legal subjects with very little attention to other important aspects of practising law such as managing staff, project-managing large transactions and large litigation matters, or understanding the practical business needs of clients.

The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession (FLIP) report, published by the Law Society in 2017, identified plenty of gaps in the knowledge of our state’s lawyers. It noted that we should consider whether lawyers and law students require business skills, technology skills and project management skills in addition to their legal skills to offer a more comprehensive service to clients and better manage their own business structures and staff.

This year, the College of Law began offering a solution in the form of a Master of Legal Business degree. The proposed curriculum aims to help lawyers better understand the business world as it applies to the legal profession and, for those who manage staff, address the FLIP report findings that management skills may be lacking in practice owners. 

Fiona McLay, Special Counsel at Rankin Business lawyers, has enrolled in the first intake of the Master of Legal Business program. She believes business skills are essential to legal practice. While McLay does not run a law firm, she does practise exclusively in business law remotely from Sydney. Her job requires her to understand the pain points of her clients so she can assist them in what she describes as “a value-driven and holistic way”. 

“Every day I talk to people who run businesses,” says McLay. “By furthering my studies in a business-focussed master’s degree, I want to better appreciate business disciplines so I can speak the same language as my clients. In turn, this will mean I can restructure my client offerings in new ways, including by adopting automations to help my clients in a value-driven and more focussed way.” 

McLay is hopeful the change in focus will also bring more balance to her own life.

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