law school vs. business school—a different take


People are redirecting and rebranding. It’s a decision point for some. Here’s a way to think about it not offered elsewhere.

In no particular order:

In business, the answer is “out there”. In front of you. Ahead of the curve. You create it. In law, the answer is behind you. In precedent. And it comes from someone else. These call up different intellectual impulses.

I know what’s said—that law is about “applying rules to new facts.” Over centuries, yes. Over your lifetime, no. Because broadly thinking, intellectually sophisticated  attorneys already recognize fact pattern diversity. Most, however, wait like standers-by for a bus, for the same basic fact pattern to roll down the street so they can apply precedent in the same way. That can matter if you envision working or partnering mostly with attorneys.

Average lawyers are assembly line workers. Don’t send a new widget down their line. Don’t try sourcing innovation from them.

Business people are creative. Resourceful. The best teeter on hallucinogenic—as do the worst. They cook stuff up. And they’re nosy. Business students were found to cheat on exams more than some other graduate school groups. I repeat: business people are creative, resourceful, can cook stuff up and are nosy. They’re infinitely exploratory and they get nervous when new widgets don’t come down the line after a while.

In business, you’re perpetually fighting to get outside of the box. In law, your domain is a box.

Business people are antsy. They want stuff to move along and they’re ready for the next. They want to be first movers and they make more the faster they move.  Lawyers are paid more the longer they take and more hours they can bill.

Business people want to run things and they want to own stuff. “This is mine”, they want to say. They want to make a lot of money and they will tell you in church in boldface and sunshine.

Lawyers want to make a lot of money too but they lie about it. They go off talking about “justice”, transactions or “helping people” or something. It’s not okay in law to say, “I want to be rich as hell.” Partly because it’s not okay in law to simply want to be rich as hell. Wanting mostly to be rich in business can work for you. Wanting it in law can really not.

Lawyers dress better. Legal clients are paying for a grown up. They don’t want an attorney who travels by skateboard—brilliance irrespective.  Some CEOs run companies in jeans. Law has serious costumery that’s of functional import. Dress is a signal in law—from judge to enforcement officer to attorney to client. By extension some lawyers make downright beautiful characters, particularly in court. And some were made for the stage upon which advocacy proceeds. It’s their money maker. They’re part entertainer, part actor, part preacher, part teacher and part salesman. They’re strong personal brands who can literally write, direct, produce and star in a show. And it’s a show.

Business people rely on teams. Competencies over here make up for a lack over there. A lawyer must pitch in all innings.

A legal mind crawls and lawyers are great debuggers. Business people aren’t oriented toward tearing their own stuff down.They fight other people who try to do it later. They’re affirmative actors. Lawyers have a fight plan for other people who might try from the start. Lawyers err on the side of not bringing cases they should have brought. Business people err on the side of launching crap that never should have been launched if they had only talked with 3 ordinary humans first.

Core competence:
Lawyers make all kinds of hell and damnation and the molten look cooler. Business people make the tepid look hot.  Business people launch. Lawyers flag.

Business people are numeric and talk to the world in charts, spreadsheets and bullets. Lawyers talk in paragraphs, paragraphs and paragraphs.

So blurred have we the lines, that in business it’s become a near fiduciary responsibility to almost go to jail.  Sadly.  Lawyers talk about ethics less than business people but mean it more. Seriously: there’s an overhang of idealism in law that regularly gives principled attorneys digestive disorders and causes disillusionment by 27.  There are a lot of things business people can be by 27 but flatly disillusioned with business doesn’t seem among them.

That’s my take. And maybe this temperament test:

If you took that AP English summer reading list seriously and tried reading all 37 classic tomes cover to cover, and finished or felt guilty for not finishing, that reeks of legal temperament.

If you bought cliff notes, never considered reading all those tomes and thought the teacher was irresponsible for asking you to, that bends toward a business temperament.

Even the entrance tests agree: the GMAT is computerized and adaptive. That’s certainly creative, and maybe even functional and efficient though, non-ironically, not cheap. Not only is the LSAT still paper based, but today’s looks quite similar to my father’s nearly fifty year-old LSAT exam booklet. That’s precedent + a box and an assembly line.

Whichever you choose, business needs great managers, and yes, great lawyers.


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