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Training must embrace entrepreneurship

Estimated read time: 4 Minutes

This article was first published by the Law Society Gazette.

Nexa’s Henry Clarke – a specialist corporate and finance specialist, has recently been published in the prestigious Law Society Gazette. Henry shared his views on why we are letting down our law students down by not providing them with sufficient business training and why legal training needs to change to embrace entrepreneurship. You can read Henry’s article below.

Legal training must urgently embrace entrepreneurialism.

I have been lucky to enjoy an unusually varied legal career. This has allowed me to learn from the diverse range of clients I have worked with and situations I have found myself in.

After training at Clifford Chance I joined the British Army, where I had various legal staff roles and saw active service in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. This was followed by several years working in private practice in the Middle East before returning to the UK and taking on an in-house role. At this point, I realised that I wanted to expand my general business management knowledge and skills, and subsequently enrolled on an MBA at Durham University where one of the areas of focus was entrepreneurship. This growing area of academia looked at the nature of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship in general, and corporate entrepreneurship, which involves looking at how to be an entrepreneur within an existing organisation.

The dictionary definition of ‘entrepreneur’ is simply ‘a person who sets up business… taking on financial risk in the hope of profit’. But ‘entrepreneurship’ conjures up in the popular imagination the idea of innovation, dynamism, self- belief and a restless striving for success. As the UK finds itself stuck in a period of low productivity and growth, encouraging entrepreneurship has never been more pressing.

For lawyers, there are real barriers to embracing entrepreneurship. These start right at the beginning of our journey, in the formal legal training we receive at university and law school, and continue in our experience of working in traditional law firms.

Since qualifying I have spent 19 years working in the legal sector; I am currently enjoying being my own boss as a self- employed, consultant lawyer. In effect, I am now a business owner, but outside the constraints of the traditional framework of a law firm partnership. The growth in consultancy law firms and platforms in the last few years means that this is now a viable option for lawyers seeking an alternative career path or wishing to re- enter law after a career break. I have found that consultancy has brought me flexibility and the freedom to work the way I want.

Afraid to take a chance

Sadly, many lawyers will feel ill-equipped to grasp this opportunity and leave the relative comfort of employment/ partnership. Many lawyers are perhaps attracted to the law because they are by nature cautious, but this inclination is reinforced by their training and working in law firms. Large corporates and high- net-worth individuals who make up the client base at many top firms are often risk-averse; they have something to lose so, in entrepreneurial jargon, they play not to lose rather than to win.

A lawyer’s experience, first of legal training and then serving this type of client, is not conducive to the formation of an entrepreneurial attitude and it is therefore unsurprising that the legal sector has a reputation for being notoriously slow to change. There is a clear business training gap in domestic law schools. There are the odd short courses and a few programmes which reflect attempts to address this issue.

We are letting down our law students by not offering them sufficient business training, particularly now that students must run up large debts to pay for their higher education. A British law school education would have wider career application if my suggestion were taken up. Furthermore, this void creates a reluctance to embody an entrepreneurial mindset that does clients a disservice and creates a reluctance to move from a traditional law firm or in-house role to set up a law firm or work as a consultant. For those that do make the leap, there is a gap in knowledge in terms of how to run and develop a business which needs to be quickly rectified during the career move. Running your own practice can be hugely rewarding, not just in terms of financial gain but also in terms of work-life balance.

More importantly, the law’s entrepreneurial void could harm the future of the UK legal sector. The Big Four are encroaching on the legal space arguably because the accountancy sector has always been ahead of the law in terms of innovation and embracing change. For example, accounting apprenticeships have taken off in recent years but a non- traditional path into law is still very much the exception. While there is nothing wrong with going straight from law school on to a training programme, just as I did, the legal sector needs to modernise.

Teaching our law students how to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset could go a long way in helping the legal sector remain competitive.

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