Law Schools Realize the Importance of a Business Mindset

Manifold LL.M. programs are marrying business and law, which were previously two separate academic disciplines

As business has become borderless and technology-driven, corporations have demanded that the lawyers advising them not only dispense legal advice: they need to play their part to help businesses grow, change and pioneer new products and services too.  

This is changing the provision of education at law schools, which, around the world, are launching specialist LL.M.s that marry business and law, which were previously two separate academic disciplines. 

Now, however, the lines between them are being blurred to reflect new realities in the marketplace: lawyers are being asked to play a starring role in important transactions and strategic projects.  

IE University in Madrid realizes the importance of a business mindset in the legal profession. “For a firm to succeed, it can’t have one without the other,” says Ana Pumar Silveira, executive director of LL.M. programs at IE Law School. “Upon its creation, IE Law School was always allied to IE Business School.”

The two interconnected institutions offer, jointly, an LL.M. degree in international business law. 

Combining legal know-how with business acumen

Such alliances between business and law schools are now commonplace. The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University near Boston, for instance, runs courses with several business schools including CEIBS in China, HEC Paris and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business in the US. 

These programs expose students to a breadth of disciplines and geographies, which are useful for learning about global legal systems and business customs. 

At the University of Amsterdam, the law and business schools are also combined: they offer an LL.M. course in finance. “The curriculum combines legal knowledge with finance, which lawyers, in-house councils and regulatory advisors working in the corporate area should have,” says Marc Salomon, dean of the Amsterdam Business School.

An entrance test in math is part of the admissions process, to ensure students are ready for the quant-heavy curriculum. “At least a basic knowledge of economics, finance and ethics will be required by corporate lawyers,” says Salomon. 

“Some lawyers need to understand complex financial products and valuations,” he says, adding that fintech subjects like blockchain are offered as electives in the LL.M.   

At IE, the LL.M. in International Business Law focuses on delivering traditional legal as well as softer skills like emotional intelligence, innovative thinking, problem solving and communication. “These skills will define the present and future lawyers who face a changing legal environment,” Silveira says. 

As well as joint degree programs, law schools are also running business plan competitions, where students from across academic fields work together to solve problems. Miami Law School, for example, runs one with other top schools like Harvard and Stanford in the US, and it is supported by law firm Eversheds, whose lawyers mentor the LL.M. students. 

Post-LL.M. careers at the intersection of law and business

Business plan competitions and other activities can lead to fruitful connections that may help LL.M. students land jobs. At IE,  students go on to work as international business lawyers for multinational law firms or corporations, or work as legal consultants or at startups. Hiring organizations include EY, Deloitte, Baker McKenzie, KMPG, Amazon, Hogan Lovells, Allen & Overy. 

Edinburgh Law School in Scotland, UK, runs an LL.M. course in commercial law, as well as programs in commercial law and banking and finance. Emilios Avgoulea, banking and finance professor, says the courses set students up for careers in complex and competitive fields such as bank regulation, global capital markets, and financial services technology.

He says that for lawyers to succeed in these industries, they need skills like advanced research, negotiation and analytical smarts, as well as familiarity with technology.  

David Kershaw, at the London School of Economics, says that LL.M. students who specialize in financial regulation, or corporate and commercial law, typically land jobs in barristers’ chambers, or take in-house roles for corporations, such as banks. 

He adds that law firms also covet a blend of business and legal knowledge and skills. “As an associate, you stand out by demonstrating that you know about specialist fields of business and commercial law, such as takeover law, corporate insolvency law, commercial remedies, financial law and regulation.”

This knowledge can help students move into the public sector as well: graduates of the program at Amsterdam have worked at the Dutch Central Bank and European Central Bank, says Salomon. 

He adds that for students interested in research, the university offers PhD positions each year at the Amsterdam Center for Law and Economics. The career opportunities for those who blend business and legal skills, it seems, are extensive.  

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