There is a distinct need for specialist business law skills in the modern corporate world, writes Professor William MacNeil.
Anyone currently working in the legal industry would be well aware that the legal profession is undergoing profound changes. Digital technology, social media, new practice management apps and savvy legal entrepreneurs are driving change and opportunities in a highly competitive market.
Suggesting that law could be practiced ‘remotely’ and on a ‘fixed fee’ basis would have been an absurd proposition in the legal profession a decade ago. Today, thanks to ‘digital disruption’, these practices are rapidly being taken up by an increasing number of firms, including BigLaw.
It is not just the effect that technology is having on the practice of law, but quick access to information is also enabling clients to be better informed and more discerning when engaging legal professionals. This is driving competition not only between law firms, but also among junior legal professionals looking for their break into an industry awash with graduates.
Working for a law firm, however, is not the only option for graduates and junior practitioners. Demand for in-house corporate lawyers and professionals with knowledge of transactional law is increasing. Companies are now realising the value of adding legally trained professionals to their ranks.
A specialisation in an area of law or business can be critical to standing out from the crowd in the overcrowded job market. Conversely, it’s critical for firms to be able to offer the services demanded by an increasingly sophisticated client group.
In times gone by, cultivating a specialist skill was simply achieved over time. People would entrench themselves in a specific area of practice or routinely work with a specific client group. Fast forward five to 10 years, and that person would be considered an expert in the field. However, this is no longer the nature of our business world. Companies now need to offer specialised professionals, and employees need to immediately compete in the fierce employment market.
An efficient, yet effective way of cultivating a specialty in law or business is through postgraduate study. Reputable courses such as the Master of Business Law (MBL) or Master of Laws (LLM) provided by the Southern Cross University are the perfect way to achieve this. Offering an opportunity to obtain expert skills and knowledge on a particular area of law, the MBL and LLM provide an avenue for professionals who wish to specialise.
Having a MBL or LLM can make graduates more attractive to companies who are looking to mitigate the legal risks of modern business. Lawyers with an LLM will stand out in the saturated employment market by offering companies additional skills, rather than the stock-standard LLB benefits.
The LLM specialisation will create a lawyer that is more adaptable and responsive to emerging areas of practice, such as intellectual property law, product liability and global regulations. Similarly, the business professional who obtains an MBL will be taken to the next level by being upskilled in the law. This will be critical in responding to the increasing legalistic nature of the business world, as technology and business structures evolve.
With the high demand for specialists, career prospects for professionals and lawyers with these qualifications will also increase. As companies try to keep up with the changing work environment and demands of savvy clients, a specialised employee will become ‘worth their weight in gold’. The business world – much like other parts of our community – no longer wants a ‘one size fits all’ approach. There is a clear need to provide an expert, individualised service to each client.
Those with a MBL or LLM will be able to offer this value-added service. The qualification in itself becomes a marketable quality of the person who brings that expertise to the client, and in turn, to the company.
While there is no substitute to time spent in practice, boosting your expertise through postgraduate study in business law is a valuable way for both employee and employer to gain a competitive advantage in a changing market.
Professor William MacNeil is the head of the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University.