Legal Ed For Corporates Gains Steam

Executive education, an important part of corporate life, has focused on providing executives with traditional tools in finance, accounting, marketing and human resources.

The number of business school executive programs has grown dramatically in recent years. The 2016 Financial Times Executive Education Report, for example, ranks 85 institutions globally with customized programs.

Now, the need to better understand the regulatory environment has led to a number of executive programs specializing in law, ethics and compliance. These programs are often led by law schools, not business schools, and the instructors are either law professors or legal practitioners. Among the leading institutions that offer such a program are Harvard Law School and NYU Law School.

Some of these programs are aimed at corporate attorneys seeking deeper expertise in a niche—the NYU-Universidad Panamericana program, for example, covers US international tax law for Mexican lawyers—or greater understanding of management and business. Others are designed to help executives or managers in tightly regulated industries such as financial services, diplomacy, healthcare and higher education gain specific knowledge—of transparency laws for finance, or international law for diplomacy, for example. Businesses still need professional legal counsel, of course, but if nonlawyers in executive roles understand the law, it significantly enhances risk management.

The growth in legal executive programs stems from three complementary factors: tightening regulations, declining enrollment and a buyer’s market for labor. Fall 2015 saw the lowest level of law school applicants in 15 years, according to the Law School Admission Council. The schools are looking to keep tuition flowing, while corporate ladder-climbers and government officials seek to differentiate themselves with legal know-how.