HLS Study: Major Law Firms Recommend Finance Classes

Law Firms' Preference of Academic Experience
A study published last week by faculty at Harvard Law School suggested that major law firms rated finance classes as more useful to law school students than those in other subjects.

Law students might want to consider taking classes on accounting, corporate finance, and financial statement analysis, according to a survey of major law firms published last week by several faculty at Harvard Law School.


The studywhich was conducted by Law School professors John C. Coates IV, Jesse M. Fried, and Kathryn E. Spierfound that 83 percent of the practicing attorneys interviewed believe students should take “Accounting and Financial Reporting” classes. Only 10 percent of attorneys, however, suggested taking a class entitled “Leadership in Law Firms.”

“The large law firms that hire Law School students have always generated most of their revenues by assisting businesses in structuring and litigating over complex financial transactions,” Fried wrote in an email. “What's different today, perhaps, is that law firms are under increasing pressure from clients to be more efficient, and so the bars for hiring and promoting associates have been raised.”

Fried and his collaborators asked 124 practicing attorneys at 11 major law firms to rate several Harvard Law classes on a scale from one, indicating “not useful at all” to five, indicating “extremely useful.” Classes in administrative law, constitutional law, and labor law all scored below 3.5.

With a score of 4.61, the Law School’s class on corporations received the highest score. Classes on “Securities Regulation” and “Mergers and Acquisitions” both received scores over 4.

Mark A. Weber, the assistant dean for career services at the Law School, said that students should not let the study go unnoticed.

“I think the survey will provide students who are pursuing legal opportunities in the private sector with helpful information when selecting their courses,” Weber wrote in an email. “Taking courses in accounting and financial statement analysis and corporate finance will serve students well irrespective of their chosen practice areas.”

Some students, however, do not appear to focus on employer preferences while selecting courses.

“I think that there are other things on my resume that would speak to these skills,” said first year law student Salome Viljoen, who entered the Law School with a background in mathematics and finance. “I think that I mostly want to get experience and exposure to things that I don’t think I could get outside of a law school context.”

Yet other students already seem to be following the advice offered by the study.

“I wanted to be marketable to future employers…so I tried to choose classes that would make me more attractive and I also tried to choose classes that would make entering into the working world easier,” said Natalie A. Perez, a third year at the Law School.

The Law School offers a broad range of accounting and finance courses. According to Fried, enrollment in those classes has steadily grown over the years.

Spier also highlighted how the Law School has designed a strong base of courses on economics and finance. According to Spier, introductory business methods classes at the Law School have proved particularly popular.

Perez, however, noted that some law students may be more reluctant to take finance classes.

“I don’t think most of my colleagues want to take these courses, but that’s just a perception of the people I interact with everyday,” Perez said.

Still, Perez was quick to point out that she felt that economics classes were intellectually interesting and pragmatic.

“I really liked my corporate finance class,” she said.

Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.


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