Calgary teaching business skills to law students

Calgary teaching business skills to law students
University of Calgary business law professor Bryce Tingle says lawyers need to understand the businesses and transactions they’re working in and around.
Financial statements, cash flow models, risk management, investor relations — do any of these terms ring a bell?

If not, you’re not alone. That’s because they aren’t typically taught in law school.

But the University of Calgary Faculty of Law wants to change that by ensuring its students are armed with some business savvy by the time they graduate. So the law school is offering a new course called Torys LLP Excellence in Business Skills for Lawyers.

Ian Holloway, law dean at the University of Calgary, says law students will require business skills at some point in their careers.

“The theory is that most young lawyers in their career are going to have clients who have issues that demand a certain level of business skills,” he says. “And when I talk to clients and companies that employ lawyers, one of the things they often complain about is that young lawyers don’t actually understand their needs.”

Associate professor Bryce Tingle is teaching the course this fall, which is being called the first of its kind in Canada. He says it’s essential for students to learn these skills because lawyers need to understand the transactions and businesses they’re working in and around.

“Lawyers tend not to [stick] to a purely legal role. They sit on boards; they are brought in-house; they go work in business teams; they become entrepreneurs; they join startups as parts of founding teams. So a lot of law students leave and they don’t just spend the rest of their lives in private practice,” he says.

“We always say to incoming law students it’s one of the benefits of a legal degree; it opens up more than just one set of doors. For all of those other jobs a law degree lets you do, you have to know business.”

Holloway says students will gain a wide array of business knowledge. “They’re going to be exposed to things like corporate strategy, finance from a business perspective as opposed to the law of corporate finance, risk management, brand management — things that go beyond the narrow legal issues that a law student might normally become acquainted with in law school.”

For example, Tingle says students will learn how to read financial statements.

“Financial statements are incredibly important in the lives of corporate lawyers, lawyers who sit on boards of directors, in-house counsel, lawyers involved in business acquisitions, securities lawyers, because it’s the principal way in which companies are understood and valued, but law students usually graduate from law school having no real idea of how to read a financial statement,” he says.

Among other things, students will learn how to read and understand cash flow models, how to deal with a crisis, how public relations and investor relations work, how to communicate with a corporate board, and the basics of corporate strategy.

Each class will include a lecture and group assignment where students will work together to solve a business problem. There is no exam; all evaluations will be skills-based.

There are also three sessional instructors taking part in the course — none of whom are lawyers — including an audit partner at KPMG LLP, an investment banker who specializes in M&A transactions, and a member of one of the most successful oil and gas executive teams in Calgary.

Additionally, the law school has made other recent changes to expand its business law offerings. Along with Tingle, who is the N. Murray Edwards Chair in Jurisdiction and Business Law, associate dean academic Jassmine Girgis and recent hire Evaristus Oshionebo also teach business law.

Tingle is also teaching two other new business law courses: corporate finance law and corporate governance & litigation, and business associations is now a graduation requirement. Furthermore, Holloway says the law school is looking at developing a small business law arm as part of its legal clinic.

The business skills course was made possible by a gift from Torys and five partners of the firm who are alumni of the law school. The details of Torys’ gift will be announced Sept. 12.

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