Author: Gloria Qiao, Founder & CEO of Trusli
Many years ago, I went through a 3-year law school education, scored in the top 10% of my class, obtained a Big Law job in New York City, and thought I had a very fruitful education. It was, but it was far from sufficient for dealing with real issues in the real world. Several years later, I went to business school and received a very different set of training materials and methodologies. Granted, business school was much “easier” in terms of being less intellectually challenging and requiring less memorization. However, I developed useful knowledge and skills that were never even addressed in law school. Of course, when I started working, first in Big Tech and then for startups in the Valley, I had to learn and teach myself many other skills. So, what are the things I wish I had been taught in law school?
1. Basic business knowledge
If you are lucky and as interested in business as I am, you may have taken a few courses in corporate finance, taxation, and financing. However, most law schools never bother to tell you about balance sheets or income statements—not to mention cap tables, basic derivatives, the present value of money, etc. Of course, depending on your career path and what you aspire to do, this may not be as important. However, as a business lawyer and now a businessperson, I find this knowledge critical not only for understanding how my own business works but also for advising clients. Ultimately, the world revolves around money, and it is essential for lawyers to understand the basics of raising, making, and losing money.
Law school is a haven for loners. Granted, I had friends who participated in study groups and shared notes, but exams are ultimately a personal competition. You are there by yourself and for yourself, and nobody can be held accountable for your grades other than yourself. While this may sound refreshing to those of us who are introverts, once you leave school and enter the real world, you’ll be shocked to find that such an environment no longer exists. In the real world, you will quickly discover that no matter what you do, your success or failure will often depend on others. In some cases, it doesn't matter how brilliant you are as an individual. If you can’t work with others effectively, you are doomed to fail.
Completely contrary to the law school approach, the business school takes this lesson to heart and intentionally puts you in a position where you must learn to work with others. For the first year, all of my grades were tied to those of my team of five other students, some of whom I could not understand, never mind work with. Oh well. We all learned to overcome that hurdle and eventually became lifelong friends. But it’s a valuable lesson that I have repeatedly utilized in my work and even family life.
3. Public speaking and improvisation
Granted, some lawyers are born with the skills required to advocate. We had moot court competitions. Some people even took trial acting. But all this is different from speaking in front of a large audience—generally not to argue, but to earn their respect and gain their interest in what you have to say. Oftentimes, you have to improvise. Things are changing constantly, so you have to make stuff up on the fly. The business school offers an improv class that I found extremely useful. We were either randomly paired up and asked to talk about unexpected topics with our partners or given slides with absurd graphics that we had to sell. Ultimately, it’s about losing your inhibitions, developing the ability to make quick decisions on the fly, and relying on your partner to lean in. I find these skills to be extremely useful in selling our product, pitching our ideas, and even recruiting.
4. Basic technical knowledge of hardware and software
This is probably a stretch, and no one would even know where to start. However, as a lawyer or even a businessperson in tech, some basic knowledge about electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and—more importantly—software is not only helpful but often crucial. I still remember when people first started telling me about volts and amps, source code and executables, or kernels and the cloud. I was confused but also a bit ashamed. As a lawyer or businessperson, you are not expected to know everything or even code. But if you don’t understand the basics, it’s very difficult for anyone to explain any given issue to you. In this day and age, one can learn and teach oneself pretty much everything. But I wish I had taken courses such as basic electronics or basic software engineering, which would have helped me avoid so much confusion and frustration.
5. Project management skills
For lawyers, this probably means writing everything down on a yellow legal pad. That was OK for a while. But as things become more complicated and the team continues to grow, one can’t help resorting to project management software. Sometimes, using a spreadsheet to organize projects is sufficient. Other times, we use fancier tools such as Asana, Jira, or Airtable. The basics are the same. Projects can be organized by category, the person in charge, and the due date. We know who needs to do what by when. We can calculate how much things cost or how much we spend. Nowadays, there are many varieties of software designed to help lawyers manage their cases or track their documents. Law schools should start identifying them and teaching students how to use them.
6. Up-to-date software tool suite for startups
I once worked at a company where the lawyers refused to use Google Docs or Jira, which was very frustrating for the engineering team. While I don’t blame lawyers for their love of Microsoft Word and redlining, not being able to make comments in real-time without having to flip documents back and forth is a nightmare for most folks working in Silicon Valley. I have also noticed that some lawyers still send PDFs or even paper documents for people to sign. Heard of DocuSign? The list goes on. Technology is constantly evolving, and the ability to use up-to-date technology is critical for a successful business or tech lawyer.