UA&P Law

my Trade Tripper column for this weekend's issue of BusinessWorld:

Your Trade Tripper has been busy the past few months. The reason being my involvement with the University of Asia and the Pacific's School of Law and Governance (slg.uap.asia), which just opened its doors to law students for the coming school year starting June. It's exciting work and the project of producing ethical, cultured, global, and professionally versatile lawyers radiates a pioneering feel.

As we pointed out in a previous column ("Suites 2.0, 07 November 2013), it's really a fallacy to say that 'there are too many lawyers". Indeed, the changed reality of the modern legal profession is such that a huge number of todays lawyers are not even into traditional law firm work.

Most instead successfully parlayed their law studies as a more rigorous alternative to a Master’s degree in other fields to advance in careers in corporate management, entrepreneurship, academe, government, or international economic or financial institutions.

Incidentally, it's probably due indeed to the limited number of lawyers actually into trial work that probably explains (among other things) the country’s high legal costs.

In any event, the trend of lawyers achieving professional success beyond the courtroom is certainly significant.

I've noted that just in the recent past, the world's top economic institutions were all headed not by economists or bankers but by lawyers: Pascal Lamy (for the WTO), Robert Zoellick (World Bank), Christine Laggard (IMF). Also noticeable is the fact that the recent most effective US Treasury Secretaries (our equivalent of the Department of Finance) were both lawyers: James Baker III and Robert Rubin.

But this development is not limited to public institutions. Legalweek.com reported of astudy carried out by Reed Smith and KPMG, which found that top British and American corporations increasingly look to the legal profession to fill senior management roles: "This study indicates that businesses, whether on a global or national stage, listed or private, have increasingly appointed those with a legal background to provide institutional leadership through CEO roles. Such a development suggests that a legal mind provides the ability, skills and experience to take up leadership roles across the breadth 
of organizations. This study invites the legal community to recognize the value that is placed on its broader involvement in the leadership of organizations."

Indeed, "CEOs with a legal background are currently represented on the boards of a broad range of industries including aerospace, pharma, publishing, retail, and oil and gas." (New study shows rising prominence of lawyers in corporate CEO roles, legalweek.com, 26 March 2013)

The list of companies headed (or recently headed) by lawyers is impressive: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Cisco, Toys 'R Us, Nokia, Home Depot, Burger King, Pfizer, Fannie Mae, Delta Airlines, amongst others. Locally, GMA7 is a good example.

Hence why James Bradford, Dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, understandably says: "The law degree is today’s renaissance degree.”

So, it’s how to adapt and improve – not the quantity of – lawyers that’s crucial. Which leads to the matter as to what kind of legal education is most fitting.

UA&P's response to this: a law training that is deeply rooted in the humanities, providing a true liberal arts education. In doing so, not only are the law students trained in the technical aspects of the law but also gain a clearer understanding of the self, human nature, and the human condition. All of which (coupled with another benefit of a classic liberal education: training to attain self-mastery) should certainly go a long way in priming students for leadership not only in the profession but business, the academe, and – ultimately – in society.

And this thinking has certainly caught on. Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer (in a recent interview with the Financial Times, 10 November 2013) points out that: "You want the people who run the organization to think like lawyers; and you want the lawyers to think like people who run the organization." This, he argues, "should inform how the law is taught because graduates often end up not as practicing lawyers but running businesses."

Furthermore, UA&P's School of Law and Governance has "governance" in its name for a reason. Borrowing from Dean Schizer: "lawyers play a critical role in policy, particularly when it comes to shaping the rules that govern business practices."

Of course one humongous fact always looms for every law student: the Bar exams. While a competent faculty is de rigueur for any law school, UA&P goes a step further in this regard: individual personal mentoring.

Mirroring PAREF schools’ highly successful system of “one-on-one mentoring”, each student will be assigned a mentor he/she regularly chats with, forming a supportive relationship that develops the student’s personality, character, and over-all potential. In any given semester, a UA&P law student could expect to be closely coached by a law expert, judge or justice, or former top government official.

So, ethical lawyers that can move beyond the courtroom, unconstrained by borders? Pioneering indeed.