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Career advancement: My two cents

As I come to a close on my second year of writing as the In-House Coach for Canadian Lawyer, the most frequent question I have heard raised by readers and fellow in-house counsel has been: What additional training can I do to make me a more valuable in-house counsel and/or to assist in advancing my career?

It is trite to say that, for most of us, time is of the essence. The challenge of juggling career, family and community/volunteer time unfortunately means that there is often very little time left to squeeze out of our days. Consequently, any investment in time and resources must be well thought out and must provide you with a strong bang for your buck/ROI.

1)    [strong]MBA


I completed my MBA, with a specialization in strategic management, several years ago now. This program took more than four years to complete on a part-time basis, with classroom time on alternate weekends.

I am often asked whether having my MBA resulted in an increase in salary, promotion or a fundamental change in my job duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, my answer is a big NO. But as a lawyer, an MBA allows you to become a more effective strategic business partner. Beyond providing a solid foundation in critical areas such as finance, accounting, marketing, HR and business strategy, once complete, the MBA allows you to participate and contribute to the development of business strategy and to interact with your business partners/clients in a way that you would otherwise not be able to do. The MBA gives you greater credibility in the eyes of your business partners and it gives them the confidence to rely upon your advice as representing not only sound legal advice but also practical, strategic business-focused legal advice.   

Program offerings have come a long way. Many universities now allow for part-time and weekend courses. This is important as you can work and study. Moreover, it is also possible that your employee benefits cover a chunk of the tuition costs of the MBA program. Financially, if available, this would be a big incentive to complete an MBA. However, I highly recommend that in making this decision you make sure you are able and willing to put in the effort and sacrifice it will take to see this through. If you are married or have a long-term partner, make sure that you have their full support and commitment to take this step in advancing your career. Also, if you have or are planning on having children, make sure that you start and complete the program sooner rather than later, as it gets harder to be away from the children as they get old enough to recognize your absence. But if and once you decide to make the sacrifice and start, make sure that you see the program through, as completing the MBA will help supplement your legal training and make you more valuable in the short and long term.

Finally, if you do not want to invest four years into an MBA program but still wish to obtain a fundamental background in business specifically tailored to your legal background, you can look at program offerings such as the Rotmans-CCCA Business Leadership Program for In-house Counsel. Either way, an MBA or the Business Leadership Program will provide you with a unique advantage and perspective that is well worth the investment.

2)    Learn a language

If burning the candle at both ends and completing an MBA is not of interest to you, there is another alternative that may be more palatable or more flexible to complete at your own time, at your own pace and that may be more fun to complete: Learn a second, third or fourth language. In today’s global marketplace, having an additional language can be a very valuable asset in many ways.

In Canada, having French provides you with a great career advantage, especially in seeking employment or promotions within the public sector. In fact, the ability to communicate in both official languages will result in higher pay, involvement in special projects and greater career opportunities. Similarly, for any employer operating across Canada, the ability to communicate and interact with customers, colleagues, regulators and government officials in the second official language will provide your career with a boost.

If international work is of interest to you, then picking up Spanish and/or Portuguese is also highly recommended. This will make you increasingly marketable with regard to North-South business. In some sectors such as mining, energy and telecommunications, the ability to communicate in Spanish and/or Portuguese is a must. Also, if mobile, Spanish is a major advantage and sometimes a prerequisite for obtaining positions in the United States.

All in all, picking up a second language can provide a substantial boost to your career and open up opportunities that may not otherwise exist. With today’s access to online apps such as Duolingo, Rosetta Stone and even low-tech solutions such as audiobooks, there really is no reason why picking up a new language is not possible and convenient for any schedule or lifestyle.

In conclusion, while not directly related to enhancing your traditional legal practice, these two career boosters will help propel your legal career or, at the very least, provide you with more flexibility as to career opportunities and your ability to interact with your business partners and become a strategic business advisor. These initiatives will require time and effort, but you will earn the dividends of your sacrifices for a lifetime. These are just my two cents and I wish you all a happy holiday season and a prosperous and healthy new year!