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Business degree ‘essential’ for corporate lawyers

Business degree ‘essential’ for corporate lawyers

Michael Adams UWS

The dean of the University of Western Sydney has warned a law degree alone may be insufficient preparation for a career as a corporate lawyer.

According to Professor Michael Adams, a background in business – possibly through life experience but usually through a commerce or economics degree – is almost mandatory for corporate lawyers graduating today.

“There are certainly lawyers who qualify with a traditional arts degree/law degree who then develop the necessary skills with experience and time,” he said.

“But to actually add value and have an understanding of business, having an economics or commerce degree, and a law degree, is a very strong connection. For corporate lawyers, it's absolutely essential.”

Moreover, he encouraged all lawyers to gain a basic education in business skills, warning it was necessary for all types of firms and practices.

“The majority of practising lawyers are running small businesses, whether at the bar, as sole traders or through to partnership relationships or more modern limited companies,” he said.

“They have to have their technical skills but their business skills are also very valuable. My experience is that some lawyers are not so good at the business side of things.”

He suggested lawyers that had pursued a dual-degree with a business component had an edge over their competition.

“I think there are a lot of people who don't understand the fundamentals of business so having that value add makes it a very popular and very strong degree,” he said.

Professor Adams himself hold both economics and law qualifications, and worked as a corporate lawyer for many years. Aside from heading up the UWS Law School, he is a Fellow of the Australian College of Educators, the Australian Academy of Law and the Governance Institute of Australia, as well as serving as a judge for the 2015 Legal Innovation Index.

Nonetheless, he said other types of double-degrees – such as law/arts or the less common law/science – could also be valuable to graduates.

“We're reasonably typical at UWS and just 10 per cent of students would do a straight LLB degree. It's a very small percentage of the market,” he said.

“As such, employment-wise you would struggle compared to those who have a five-year degree.”

Aside from employability at major firms, he suggested dual-degrees gave budding lawyers more scope to pursue different career paths, such as going in-house, going to the bar or working in policy.

“We work in an environment where things change. Things aren't absolutely fixed, so that this is your only path. I think that's what we're beginning to see more of,” he said.

“Through your career cycle, not everyone will go in as a graduate lawyer and end up as a partner.”


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