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How to become a business-minded lawyer: Lessons from a LLB/MBA graduate

Written by Paulette Pommells

The students coming through law school nowadays are highly accomplished. They work abroad, start charities, develop apps. They are big thinkers, innovators. They are business-minded.

One of these students, who I met 6 years ago, has had a diverse and interesting career. I sat down with Manny Sahota to learn more about how he’s been applying his MBA training and business experience to a career in law as a management consultant.

You’ll want to read on if you’re looking for ways for your firm (or yourself) to become (more) business-minded!

What was your initial vision for getting an MBA after law school?

“My initial vision was to practice law, hopefully, at a Bay Street law firm.  But since the market for legal services wasn’t the greatest after I got my MBA, I realized that there was a bigger market for management consulting, business development, business transformation and operations management.”

So what did you do?

“With my dual training, and through relationships that I developed across multiple industries during my MBA, there was never a shortage of opportunities. Below is a high level summary of some of my key responsibilities working for investment banking/legal industries:

  • At RBC capital markets, I headed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act initiative in an advisory and project management capacity. This was in partnership with in-house counsel and external corporations.
  • At TD Bank, I led the RFP External Counsel Management initiative for North America as well as the Knowledge Matter Management initiative – both as a project manager.
  • At Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, I was responsible for leading transformation, operations, and business development strategy initiatives as a project manager.”

From what you’ve seen, where can law firms afford to become more business-minded?

“Having worked both on the law firm and client side, I believe there are three professionals that every law firm should consider hiring:

  1. A project manager
  2. A business transformation expert, and
  3. Someone who specializes in business development as a trained management consultant, and NOT someone who will necessarily perpetuate the current operating model.”

Why are these roles so important in your opinion?

“Think of a project manager as someone who can significantly reduce operating costs.  While the lawyer(s) will generate revenue for the firm, a project manager will help to ensure that revenue is well spent!

A business transformation expert can bridge the gap and open the communication channels between opportunities and the client’s business management needs. This is important because many law firms and management consulting firms are trying to understand how they can be more innovative and provide advisory/consulting services to their clients.

A business development leader is skilled at many things, but they can add deep value by supporting lawyers in their business development.” 

These roles sound like they’d be appropriate for a medium to large sized firm.  Do you agree?

I think they could actually add more value to a mid or small sized firm because their size tends to allow them to be agile.” 

If a firm doesn’t have the resources to hire these additional professionals, what can individual lawyers do to become more business-minded themselves?

“My recommendation would to be to hire a consultant on a part time or contract basis. Results-oriented consultants with legal management experience can drive results within a defined period. These kinds of consultants are rewarded for their performance and their performance is all measured. The other option is to take a mini MBA online course to understand, on a high level, how to address business challenges. 

On the topic of training, what other training or certifications can an individual lawyer obtain to become more business minded?

“You can do a part-time MBA.  This will allow you to re-create work scenarios and leverage all the MBA’s platforms to solve your workplace problems. This is also the best way to transition into a business management leadership role and become an expert. The skills you gain from an MBA are transferable to other industries.

There’s also a part-time LL.M. If you have a law degree and want to take on a business services/legal services hybrid role, this is your best option. You can go deeper into your practice and learn key business principles at the leadership level.

A Project Management Certificate is the fastest and cheapest way to become an expert. Project managers do NOT have to be subject matter experts and they do not need to know the law. They do, however, need to posses leaderships skills and leverage the right talent for the right type of work.”

What’s next for you in terms of applying your legal and business background?

“I have recently made the move to a management consulting firm with a focus on the legal industry. My job is to support law firms of various sizes with their business development, transformation, project management, and operation initiatives. In the age of transformation, law firms need to take a proactive approach in addressing the needs of their clients. In our current market, I feel that firms are taking a reactive approach and staff inefficiently.

More about Manny Sahota:

Manny is an experienced independent management consultant with over 9 years of experience working in legal, investment banking, and pharmaceutical industries for organizations such as Borden Ladner Gervais (Legal), TD Bank (Legal), RBC Capital Markets (Investment Banking) and GlaxoSmithKline (Pharmaceutical). He has completed his MBA at the Schulich School of Business with a focus on Finance, Strategic Management, and Operations Management & Information Systems and his law degree at Osgoode Law School/University of Leicester with a focus on corporate finance. Connect with Manny on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/sahotamanny

 

About the author

Paulette Pommells

I am a certified coach with a creative approach to bring out the best of the 21st Century Lawyer! A 21st Century Lawyer myself, I was faced with a professional dilemma years ago: I had become a “successful” lawyer, and yet something didn't feel right. One day, I hired a career coach and realized how similar coaching is to the legal strategy process. I decided to share this breakthrough with every single lawyer. Today, Creative Choices™ is a sought-after technique by lawyers, law students and law firms when it comes to professional challenges of all kinds. You can learn more about this on my website www.21stcenturylaywyer.ca or by emailing me at paulette@21stcenturylawyer.ca.

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