Innovation

Innovation and Technology: Key Topics in Today’s Law School Curriculum

As the legal industry continues to evolve, so too has legal education. Thus, prospective law students should pay careful attention to the changing markets for legal services, how technology may be disrupting their fields of interest, and how schools on their list are responding to such change.

In a recent Forbes Online article, Mark Cohen describes the changing landscape of legal services as the role of legal technology increases. He references a Thomson Reuters analysis, issued earlier this year, that showed a 484 percent increase in new legal services technology patents filed globally over the past five years, with the majority filed in U.S. and China (38 percent and 34 percent respectively). The analysis reports that these numbers “reflect the rise of alternative legal services—such as virtual law firms—and the rapid expansion of the online legal industry. This trend is in large part being driven by businesses and individuals looking beyond traditional channels for legal advice.” And it supports findings presented in Deloitte’s Future Trends for Legal Services report, published in 2016, which reported data from a survey of in-house legal services purchasers. Over half of respondents predicted technology would replace the tasks of in-house lawyers in just five years. Additionally, respondents reported a need for legal partners that go “beyond legal,” or what a major law firm typically delivers, and incorporate expertise on industry topics, cyber and data security, and proactive knowledge sharing.

The future for practicing lawyers is shaping up to look considerably different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. Cohen predicts that in the future, “Fewer lawyers will engage in pure ‘practice’ and many more will leverage practice skills and a suite of new ‘delivery’ skillsets to perform as-yet unidentified legal delivery functions.“

So, what does this mean for prospective law students? It means they should be paying close attention to how schools’ are adapting their curricular offerings and knowledge center initiatives to integrate technology and business topics. Daniel Linna, Director of LegalRnD at the The Center for Legal Services Innovation at the Michigan State University College of Law recently launched a prototype for the Legal Services Innovation Index. This is a tool that can be used to track and measure innovation in legal education. While Linna warns that it does not measure quality and should not be considered a ranking, in using this tool, prospective law students can quickly gather information and compare technology-related offerings at various schools. The prototype model currently uses ten technology and legal-service delivery disciplines and includes 38 schools. It is not yet a comprehensive tool, but there are plans for increasing its scope.

Most importantly, Linna’s prototype is a much-needed acknowledgement of the changing nature of the field and the need for law schools to think innovatively about how best to prepare the lawyers of the future. “We need to start measuring these things, start describing innovation and measuring it,” Linna said. “We need metrics for what is happening in the legal industry.”

The Center for Legal Services Innovation has also created an innovation measurement for Law Firms, which is in Phase One.

Unconventional Applicants to MBA Programs Must Consider Abilities in Innovation, Leadership, and Teamwork

To be tardy to Professor Barton Hamilton’s Managerial Economics class at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis means you will be serenading your fellow classmates with song.  One could choose as simple a tune as ‘Happy Birthday’ or, for alumni David Logan, former tenor at the Des Moines Metro Opera, ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s Turandot, may be the more compelling crowd-pleaser.   

While unlikely Logan encountered stage fright if ever a few moments late to Hamilton’s class, students from seemingly unconventional backgrounds seeking their MBA’s, like Logan, often face uncertainty when trying to set themselves apart in the MBA application process. Business schools pride themselves on building diverse classes with students coming from a wide array of industries and educational backgrounds, but exactly how should the musician, teacher, graphic designer, and architect translate their experiences and abilities for admissions committees that employ a specific set of criteria when gauging prospective students’ potential? The key is to consider one’s ability to innovate, to lead, and to learn from and inspire fellow teammates.

Innovation: When considering your ability to innovate, think about meaningful, post-baccalaureate professional experiences when you employed critical thinking to introduce change, to develop imaginative solutions, and/or to evaluate risk. You don’t have to be a patent holder, tech entrepreneur, or engineer to capitalize on your ability to innovate in your business school application.  You could have done something as simple as made small, yet impactful improvements to a project management tool or have taken a novel approach in prospecting new clients.  Just be sure to show admissions committees your potential through story, rather than relying on claims of your success.  Specific anecdotes are always far more memorable than general statements about your beliefs or achievements.  

Leadership: Don’t worry if you haven’t yet managed a team on a regular basis.  When it comes to articulating your leadership potential, think about meaningful projects when you exercised a leadership role, which can show the reader your abilities in a convincing and memorable way.  What were the group dynamics?  What about the successes, failures, and lessons learned from the project? Can you think about a specific example when you demonstrated initiative?  What caused you to initiate certain actions and what were the results? What about a time that you provided feedback and a positive outcome resulted? 

Teamwork: Long before you take your first course, the student affairs team at the business school you choose will be dissecting your next incoming class in order to construct small study groups of four or five students who ideally will complement one another’s strengths, skill-sets, and experiences. Once you matriculate, you will have no choice, but to spend many sleepless nights with this group completing core curriculum projects. As your ability to thrive in a team setting is vital, both in business school and beyond, it is important to think about meaningful experiences you can incorporate into your application, which will show the reader a time when you translated a strategy into action for your team, encountered a significant obstacle in getting people to take action, or did something unexpected to build trust among team members. 

On the day Logan did rush into class a few moments too late, unsuspecting classmates experienced one of the greatest joys of business school: observing and learning from one another’s unique gifts in an environment committed to creative thinking and camaraderie.

Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part III: Getting to Know the Applicant

It was decided long ago, in graduate business school admissions, that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first students at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

Getting to Know You: The Interview and Essays

Another application staple, the essays, are often cited by admissions directors to be the most important part of the application.  They play a critical role in painting a picture of your potential by telling your personal and professional story and setting the stage for the other application components.  A well-written essay examines the value you can bring in terms of leadership, innovation and teamwork, your fit with a particular program and how you stand out overall.    

The interview, too, is arguably one of the most important parts of the business school application.  Not only must you look an admissions officer in the eye to discuss the contents of the paper application you’ve been refining for months, but you must also convince them of your strong communication abilities and the value you will bring into the classroom.

Behavioral interviews are the most widely used in graduate business programs, but could there be a better way?  For applicants, the behavioral interview is usually preferred because it is easier, but in the long run, a case format could prove to be a better evaluative tool.  Ultimately, being surrounded by top talent will make your experience as a student more enriching. 

Case interviews are typically the work of consulting companies and prominent financial firms, largely because they force an applicant to think on their feet, respond under pressure and analyze a complex situation in a finite amount of time.  Then, why wouldn’t case interviews be an important evaluative tool for MBA programs?

“The biggest concern, says Bouffides, are efficiency issues.  With so many applicants in full-time MBA admissions, it would pose a resource challenge to ask admissions officers to conduct a case interview for each and every student they are considering.  EMBA admissions are different, he says, so case interviews may provide a great tool for differentiation. The EMBA applicant pool is self-selecting and, therefore, much smaller.”

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger.

Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part II: Assessing Professional Competence

In 1943, when the first Executive MBA Program yielded a class of 52 students, business school admissions processes largely mirrored those practiced in the Ivy League.  Applicants completed a personal facts section and clearly outlined their extracurricular and professional activities.  Recommendation letters, written by persons who knew the applicant well and could speak to their character, were sent to the institution.  The applicant completed personal essays so the admissions committee could gauge the applicant’s aptitude for leadership.  And, finally, the interview would look at the more subtle indicators of future success.  Academic achievement was just one of the 4 pieces.  Was the admissions committee downplaying the value of intellectual accomplishment?

The answer is yes, because it was decided that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first student’s at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

 Assessing Professional Competence: Recommendation Letters and Resume

The quality and quantity of an applicant’s work experience is key when determining top management potential, so a polished resume is an absolute must.  But, what about recommendation letters?  Do they really help to set an applicant apart from the pack?  In nearly every circumstance, an applicant will choose a recommender who will gloat about their strengths and minimize or barely mention any perceived weaknesses.  In the competitive world of admissions, choosing a recommender, who will paint the picture of an all-star, seems to be the smart thing to do, but is this really a productive process for admissions committees?  Isn’t there a better way to gauge top management talent?

Evan Bouffides, Associate Dean and Director of MBA Admissions at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, says that while recommendation letters may serve as a point of differentiation for executive business programs, full time MBA admissions is a different story.  “We no longer require recommendation letters in our full-time MBA application because we found the letters didn’t provide us with a point of differentiation.  More often than not, he says, I thought a letter’s content did not provide honest insight about a candidate.  I could also never be completely sure that the name signed at the bottom was the writer of the recommendation.”

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger.

Innovation is Key. Is Graduate Business Admissions the Exception? Part I: Assessing Academic Potential

Touted in nearly every business blog or book, the ability to innovate is the Holy Grail of capitalist enterprise.  The advent of the MBA program was in itself an innovation, a response to the massive business model overhauls during the industrial revolution.  Later, the end of World War II brought continued innovation, aggressive growth in the automobile, aviation and electronic industries and, in 1943, the creation of the Executive MBA at the University of Chicago.  Since then, like business, management educations have continued to evolve. What hasn’t changed so much is the evaluative process employed by admissions committees, the gatekeepers at top programs.

In 1943, when the first Executive MBA Program yielded a class of 52 students, business school admissions processes largely mirrored those practiced in the Ivy League.  Applicants completed a personal facts section and clearly outlined their extracurricular and professional activities.  Recommendation letters, written by persons who knew the applicant well and could speak to their character, were sent to the institution.  The applicant completed personal essays so the admissions committee could gauge the applicant’s aptitude for leadership.  And, finally, the interview would look at the more subtle indicators of future success.  Academic achievement was just one of the 4 pieces.  Was the admissions committee downplaying the value of intellectual accomplishment?

The answer is yes, because it was decided that pure intellectual prowess does not, alone, predict future success.  Factors, unrelated to intellect, like motivation and social skills were also considered crucial. Today, not much has changed.   The admissions process is nearly identical to the one used by the first student’s at Chicago’s EMBA.  This is because MBA programs have never been looking for just good students.  They are looking for leaders who will continue their positive trajectory of success after the program is complete.  Like the officials of the Ivy League, the MBA admissions process is not simply a matter of academic brilliance.  Admissions committees want a student body with a diverse variety of talents, qualities, attitudes and backgrounds. 

The question, then, is not whether the goals of the admissions process are out of line.  The question is whether or not the admissions tactics employed by MBA programs are effective in evaluating top management potential.  Let’s examine each piece of the puzzle.     

 (1.) Assessing Academic Potential: The GMAT and Transcripts

The Graduate Management Admissions Council created the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 1953 to gauge a prospective students’ ability to compete in the academic rigor of graduate business programs.  The exam, which was recently updated with an additional section, tests verbal skills and analytical writing ability, quantitative skills as well as an aptitude for integrated reasoning.  Most full-time MBA programs value the test’s findings because it makes their evaluative jobs easier by leveling the playing field.  This has proven to be especially important when applicants are coming from a wide array of industries and educational backgrounds.  But, is the GMAT an effective predictor of academic success?

Many proponents of the exam agree that analytics, reasoning skills and aptitude are vital in EMBA programs.  With no standardized measure, some schools say, programs may accept students who are not qualified academically, especially in the heavy quantitative courses.  Schools who require the GMAT for EMBA admission say that while work history, prior degrees and leadership experience are important, they are not a good gauge of an applicant’s analytical skills.

Critics of the GMAT’s usage in EMBA admissions say it is not a valid test of an applicant’s strengths. Instead, they say, schools should base decisions for enrollment on academic records and work history, aspects of the application the GMAT doesn’t measure.  These programs are clearly more concerned with an applicant’s professional career and the value their experiences will add to the classroom dynamic.                      

Business schools will continue to engage in the debate regarding the priority given to the GMAT in admissions, but one thing is for sure.  The GMAT is not a test of future management success.  It is merely a predictor of success in an applicant’s first year of business school.  

Like the GMAT, the transcript is another predictor of future academic achievement.  For applicants and admissions officers alike, the content and requirement of a transcript on a graduate business application is set in stone.  Applicants can’t change its material and admissions deans won’t ever be able to standardize the rigor of classes or grades given at other institutions.  It is what it is, a staple of most applications to academic programs in higher education.  

Rather than doing different, when we innovate, we do the same better.  The ultimate goals of MBA admissions committees will remain the same, but as future students and alumni of MBA programs, if we can encourage constant innovation in the selection processes of our classmates, our academic experiences will be richer and the programs, from which we graduate, stronger.