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Legal Recruiting Trend: Big Law Firms Eye the MBA

Legal Recruiting Trend Big Law Firms Eye MBAs

An ABA proposal about non-lawyer law firm ownership has renewed controversy in what the WSJ Law Blog characterized as a “long simmering debate.”

Reporter Jacob Gershman wrote “those who favor lifting the restriction say it would expand consumers’ access to legal services, spur innovation and reduce the cost of legal help.”

On the flip side, he reports, “Giving people who don’t have a law license the ability to share firm profits would undermine the profession’s ethical obligations of client loyalty and confidentiality, critics argue.”

The renewed debate is reminiscent of a hiring trend that’s been underway for some time in law firm circles.  If we set aside the sensitive topic of ownership, law firms have opened up to functional experts for a range of duties from cybersecurity to legal pricing.

This reminds us of an interview by Lee Pachia of Mimesis Law conducted early last year: MBA’s Wanted: How BigLaw C-Suites Are Bulking Up. During the interview, he asks Amanda Brady of the recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa about the trend toward picking up MBAs for senior law firm positions.

The video is embedded nearby and is this week’s Friday Share.

MBAs in the Legal C-Suite

Three points from this interview seem to stand out:

1. The need for MBAs. JDs in essence manage risk for a profession and are risk adverse “by DNA.” By contrast, MBAs view look for opportunity in risk and this different perspective has inherent utility in today’s highly competitive law firm landscape.

2. Where to find MBAs. Ms. Brady suggests MBA talent that can add value to a law firm usually rests outside the legal industry. However, she cautions against looking to those with a corporate background in favor of those MBAs working in other professional services categories.  The reason for this, she says, is because corporations tend to have drastically different cultures that may not be adaptable to the culture of a law firm.

3. How much are MBAs paid. Ms. Brady notes there’s wide variation from firm-to-firm but offered a few broad benchmarks as a starting point:

  • Chief Operating Officer. A COO income will be comparable to that of an average partner.  She says this is because a COO is “expected to contribute at least as much” as the average partner.
  • Chief Marketing Officer. A CMO (or Chief Business Development Officer) tend to be “highly paid” because they have to “influence lots of people,” to get things done. Brady says at an AmLaw 100 firm salaries can range from $500,000 and up.

The complete interview runs just 11 minutes:

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Slow and Steady “Sales” Slips into the Law Firm Lexicon 

Photo credit:  Flickr, Roger W, Harvard Business School – Baker Library (1972) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.