There is an art to lawyering. There’s also an art to running a business. But rarely are they taught together.
Professor Morris Ratner aims to fill the gap with his spring seminar in Law Practice Management. A first for UC Hastings, the seminar will introduce 20 students to the organizational structure of legal offices and their distinct management styles.
Students should begin developing what Ratner calls the “X-Factor,” the ability to think strategically along both legal and business dimensions. “You may not get the X-Factor from a 13-week course; it’s a career-long process of acquiring business savvy. But that process starts with a solid introduction to the basic issues.”
The seminar is not purely doctrinal, and instead emphasizes practice skills and theory. So, it touches on corporate formation, partnerships, employment law, accounting and other relevant fields, as they relate to law practice management. Ratner, who was a partner at San Francisco-based Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein and one of the founding partners of its New York office, has direct experience in both law practice and project management, and has published scholarship with a heavy emphasis on law practice management theory.
Ratner will also bring in as guest speakers practitioners who are at the leading edge of new practices and organizational forms to share how to start and operate law firms, from solo practices to large international firms. “Each one of those organizations has a different set of management issues associated with it,” Ratner said. “We want to use theory to help think through the implications of the different organizational forms.”
There are no specific prerequisites for the course. “Seminar students certainly don’t need an MBA,” Ratner says, "but by beginning to think systematically about management issues, they can be much more effective associates, and ultimately, business owners."
UC Hastings does have a joint JD/MBA program with UC Berkeley. “Law practice management is a bridge course,” Ratner explained. “We focus on what the student needs to function in a business setting. I think students are hungry for this kind of information.”
By understanding more how law firms work, Ratner believes UC Hastings can train more sophisticated lawyers.“When I was in a law firm, and grooming young associates, I looked for associates who thought like partners. They figured out how a particular project fit into a piece of litigation, and how the litigation fit into the firm’s business model. They understood how the work they did on client matters fit within the mandate of the firm as an ongoing business concern. That awareness made it possible to visualize such associates as future business partners, as partners in the firm.”
The goal is to teach students to think as business people, and to think strategically, rather than reactively, about their practices. “That’s the practical advantage,” he said.