October 21, 2011
Teaching B-School vs. Teaching Law School
Posted by David Groshoff

One of the things that I find most interesting as I head into the last half of my third semester of teaching business, law, and economic concepts as a full-time professor from a business law standpoint in a law school versus having taught business, law, and economic concepts from financial or economic standpoints as a full-time professor in a business school setting is the nature of the students.

After spending so many years in the business world, and after spending so much time teaching finance and economics at business schools, I had forgotten my impression of the the intensely personal nature of law school and, to a certain extent, the legal profession as compared to the team-based nature of business.  

I speculate that this difference generally comes from a few areas.  In business school, students want to learn business, even if they didn’t want to learn the specific subject of the finance (managerial finance for undergrads or advanced securities analysis for MBAs) or economics (macro for undergrads or managerial economics for MBAs).  Those students understand that these classes are necessary to their having the skill set required of a business person.  

In contrast, a number of my law students did not come to law school to learn business.  They want to save the world through blue collar criminal defense or prosecutions or death penalty appeals or what have you.   And many of those students have no prior background in business concepts (not a bad thing, I was a liberal arts major as an undergraduate).  But as a result, either I teach the initial Business Law concepts too slowly for some of the students with existing business majors or MBAs, or I teach the initial too quickly for those with no business background and no math course in many years.  While differentiated instruction is a challenge to begin with, the issue becomes more acute when the teacher deals not only with different learning styles and abilities but also with huge gulfs in prior knowledge,  attempting to get students as quickly but as responsibly as possible to a reasonable point where the business student’s prior knowledge and the new-to-business law student’s business knowledge can merge.

Yet what I find more troublesome is the desire of business students -- whether through having taught these classes at PC or NKU or having taken these classes as a student at NKU or HBS – is the desire for students to crave team-based learning to demonstrate their leadership skills and their ability to sort out each other’s strengths and weaknesses to maximize their individual talents within an enterprise setting.

But in whatever law school I have been a student (or now professor), that fierce individualism in a law school context remains individualism to the point of hearing a consistent “I don’t trust my classmates.”  Is this response simply anecdotal to my experiences, or is that response indicative of what I perceive to be a greater problem of how law schools teach in general that negatively impacts the learning of our students who want to be business lawyers?  I’m well aware that I’m now teaching in a law school and not a B-school, but business lawyers, overall, must work in teams and cannot sit in a library or a computer room as a law clerk and simply do legal research and writing. 

To me, business lawyers (and law students) must speak the language that their (future) business client counterparts speak.  And while I value individualism greatly, each individual’s talents should be able to shine through in an enterprise (whether a law school or B-school team or an LLC or corporation) so that those individual talents may increase value for everyone in the team and not simply be distrusted because distrust is the nature of what I’ve noticed over and over again in the law, regardless of the type of law school, public or private first or fourth tier.

I address this problem head-on in my basic Business Associations courses by requiring my students to engage in both team-based document drafting exercises that are worth a material portion of their final grades (20%) as well as a self-evaluation of their teammates work (an additional 2.5% of their final course grade).  The front-end pushback I get from my Business Associations students is immense and often intense, although a number of students following their internships tell me how valuable the exercise was to them.

Regardless, I wonder why is it that my B-school experiences were consistently team-driven, team-focused, in which where students seemingly always sought input from other students whose knowledge base or specific skill sets may be better than their own in a particular area, but in law school, students continue to resist the recognition that their classmates may have something hugely valuable to offer the team, beyond simply the negative of being a free rider.

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