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Ms. JD Interview with Katrina Lee, Law Professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

Today’s guest on the Ms. JD Pre-Law blog is Professor Katrina Lee from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law where she teaches business of law, legal negotiations, and legal writing. She is also author of the new business of law coursebook, “The Legal Career: Knowing the Business, Thriving in Practice.” Prior to academia, she was a litigator and equity partner at Nossaman LLP. Professor Lee earned both her law and undergraduate degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.

Hi Professor Lee! Let’s start with: What is the business of law? Can you share some of the themes that you address in your book and seminar?

Professor Lee: Thank you, Ms. JD, for this opportunity to talk about my work to your pre-law audience! Every pre-law student should learn about the business of law.

In my business of law class, my students and I explore the evolving legal landscape, the competitive field of legal service delivery, the access to justice gap, and diversity and employment trends in the legal profession. We talk about how law firms have historically operated and how some are changing, and the needs and expectations of corporate clients. As part of this business of law education, students learn about the billable hour, originations and collections, realization, utilization, and attorney compensation. We have discussed law office design, the role of creativity in client service, new legal technologies, and legal design thinking. I have guests in my class. Last Spring, our guests included a law firm managing partner; a legal innovator who left Biglaw to found a successful legal process outsourcing company; the chief innovation officer of a Biglaw firm; and the chief litigation officer of a Fortune100 company. My students also work in law firm teams and deliver pitches to guest counsel in a simulated pitch session.

The business of law is a big and fascinating area. Everything related to the livelihood of legal professionals and the delivery of legal services, including the who, what, how, and how much, can fall under the business of law umbrella. My book covers topics covered in my course and features detailed interviews with legal professionals. With my course and my book, I try to make the business of law accessible, and, even, dare I say, fun!

Would all law students benefit from learning about the business of law, including law students who are more interested in public interest work than private practice?

Professor Lee: Emphatically, yes! Every law student should learn about the business of law. The business of law is not a topic limited to private practice. The business of law encompasses the careers of those who practice law in the public sector and those who have decided to pursue legal jobs in nonprofits. For example, how government lawyers are compensated; why they elect to work at their jobs instead of, say, in private practice; and the technology used in their work are all topics that would fall under the business of law.

Does your “business of law” perspective influence how you teach your other classes, negotiations and legal writing?

Professor Lee: I love this question. I would have to say that it does influence my teaching in other courses. For example, empathy is a key lawyering and business skill, and I try to give my students opportunities to practice it in all of my courses. Also, in negotiations, we talk about how law firms make decisions; sometimes, my students engage in simulations involving a law firm employment negotiation or an associate hiring decision. We discuss bias in the legal profession and how mindfulness practice can help reduce bias. As covered in my book, mindfulness can have a host of benefits for lawyers and be key to thriving in law practice. In legal writing, as many other legal writing professors do, I talk about budgetary considerations, changing legal research technologies, and billing time. Those are all topics related to the business of law.

I understand that it’s a fairly recent change that law schools are addressing business of law issues within the curriculum—as opposed to informally through their career centers or not at all. At what point in your own career did you start thinking seriously about the business behind the legal profession?

Professor Lee: Good question! I hope to see more law schools offer business of law courses, and that my book will help make it easier for law schools and their faculty to add business of law to their curricula. I began to think more seriously about all things business when I was in college. I was an editor of the college campus newspaper. The newspaper was, and is, a non-profit independent of the university. I saw how the different parts of the business, including marketing, editorial, and production, worked together and sometimes encountered tensions with each other. In my time as editor-in-chief, I oversaw the entire operation and made business decisions. I enjoyed the challenge. I entered my college newspaper as a writer, and I left it as a writer and a business person. By the time I entered the legal field, I knew that I wanted to learn my craft just as much as I wanted to learn about the business of legal.

Finally, what can pre-law students be doing now to “know the business and thrive in (their future) practice”?

Professor Lee: Learning about the business of law is critical to thriving in law practice. As a pre-law student, set your sights on laying a foundation that will help you stay in law practice for the long-term if you so choose. Make it a priority now to learn about lawyer well-being, the cost of going to law school, and changes happening in the legal profession. You can begin by reading my book, which will hopefully be available in your university library, and then turn to additional materials. Many, many great resources are out there. Talk to legal professionals, through your personal network, your university and local law school network, or the local bar association. Throughout your exploration, be curious and use active listening.

Above all else, take care of yourself. Self-care is key to thriving as a law student and lawyer. This can mean taking time for yourself, reading what you love to read, spending time with loved ones, doing what you can to stay as healthy mentally and physically as you are able to, and practicing mindfulness.

To every pre-law student reading this, I wish you a joyful, fulfilling path to your eventual work in the legal field! 

Thank you for taking the time to speak to the Ms. JD Pre-Law blog!

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