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  • Malvika Patil

Why Does a Lawyer Need an MBA?

Lawyers are a relative minority in the MBA classroom. But there are unique benefits to combining a business education with a legal background; an MBA allows you to develop key decision-making and strategy skills that can be applied in broad business contexts.

For those who want to work in corporate law, finance, or management consulting, an MBA is a powerful tool to manage people, technology, resources, and networks. 

Matheus is part of this MBA minority. He worked as a solicitor and barrister in Brazil for five years before moving to the UK, where he is currently doing an MBA at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. We sat down with Matheus to discuss his experience as a lawyer doing an MBA, what he likes about Oxford SBS, and advice for other MBA applicants. Watch the full interview below.

Q. How many lawyers are in the Oxford MBA 2023-24 cohort?

Matheus: This year, Oxford’s MBA cohort has 334 students, of which approximately 12 are lawyers or people with legal backgrounds. For example, one student qualified as a lawyer years ago when they worked in private equity. Another has a law background, but has been working in tech. Lawyers make up only 3.6% of the cohort. Compared to other industries that dominate the MBA classroom, like consulting (often 30% or higher at top business schools), that’s a small contingent!

Q. Why does a lawyer need an MBA?

Matheus: An MBA can help a candidate with a legal background to progress in their career both internally and externally:

  1. Leadership: An MBA offers a broad understanding of different business functions. Students learn about accounting, marketing, sales, operations, and people management. As candidates go on to handle complex managerial responsibilities, this knowledge will help them work with cross-functional teams. For those who want to start their own law firm, these traits help build efficiency and profitability.

  1. Handling clients: An MBA helps lawyers provide a higher quality of service to their clients. Say you are a corporate lawyer, for instance, advising on an M&A deal with an investment banker, you will be able to lean on your experience of having interacted with other finance professionals in the MBA classroom. You’ll have a better understanding of what the client wants from the deal, as well as the industry jargon they use, like discount cash flow models, or market price validation.

  1. Network: Only about 3% of the MBA class are lawyers. That means that there are 97% MBA candidates who aren’t. These people will need lawyers in the future and who are they going to think of first? They are more likely to reach out to a peer who understands both law and business management. You’ll need these powerful connections in your career.

Q. Which MBA classes are useful for lawyers doing an MBA? 

Matheus: I think all of them. Analytics was useful. Accounting was very, very useful. 

These classes can help you develop quantitative skills that aren’t taught at law school. They also help you understand developments in technology, which is important, especially with the increasing use of AI and Machine Learning in modern business. 

The curriculum is designed to expose students to a broad range of disciplines. So the MBA helps graduates better understand what their clients are looking for and speak their language. They can approach issues through a wider lens, not just their legal knowledge. This also opens up many career opportunities, like signing with a law firm, becoming a board member at a company, or a general counsel at a large firm. 

It’s a very rare combo. So it makes you a more unique professional, in my view.

Q. Why Oxford? 

Matheus: Several reasons. One of them is personal; I visited the UK about 8 years ago to do summer law school, and loved it here. 

But other than that, I noticed that US business schools tend to have a large number of American students, while UK schools typically have a larger number of international students. For instance, 97% of Oxford’s MBA 2023-24 cohort is international. As an international student myself, this helped me integrate faster with my peers in the cohort. There’s also the fact that US schools are more expensive than UK schools on average, even for the 2 year programs. 

You and I applied to quite a few schools together, and I got offers from four European schools - Oxford, Cambridge, LBS, and IESE. The first thing I did was to sort them by profile. Oxford and Cambridge have similar profiles, and LBS and IESE have similar profiles. I’m Latin American, so IESE (which is in Spain) wouldn’t give me the culturally diverse experience I want. My ultimate decision was based on where I wanted to live. To live in Oxford was a lifetime opportunity, and as a lawyer, the Oxford brand is significant. 

And I don’t regret it for a second! I love being here. It’s a smaller city with a college system, which means that I get the chance to interact with people who are doing their Master’s or D.Phils in several different subjects. And that adds so much value to your overall experience.

You also get to participate in various clubs and societies. For instance, there was recently a chocolate tasting organized by the Swiss, Belgian, and Luxembourgish societies. You get to experience many different cultures. Then there are the formal dinners and balls, where you meet many interesting people, both undergrads and postgrads who doing all sorts of state-of-the-art research in chemistry, biology, physics, math, statistics, finance, or history. The range is really significant.

Oh, and what impressed me the most about SBS is the people. Everyone is sociable and willing  to help. You can always reach out to them. 

Q. How did you get a scholarship?

Matheus: When I received my offers from the 4 schools, I informed Cambridge, who then offered me a GBP 10,000 scholarship. But I chose Oxford over Cambridge because the scholarship wasn't big enough to make me change my mind. I believe that the MBA is a life changing decision and this amount would not make a huge difference. 

My biggest advice for people looking for scholarships is to negotiate early. Schools have a limited amount of scholarships they can offer and you have to move fast if you want to get it.

Also, don't let schools know that you are committed to them, because then they are less incentivized to give you a scholarship. 

That’s a mistake I made. If I had started the negotiation process sooner, I could have perhaps received more from Cambridge and even from Oxford. 

Q. What would you have done differently if you were to go through the MBA application process again?

Matheus: In addition to my scholarship negotiations, I would have also started my MBA application process earlier. I decided to apply only 1 month before the deadline for my application, which was intense. I had never done the GMAT before, and had only 3 days or so to study for it. Coming from a legal background, this was way out of my comfort zone. I was also working at the time, so I had my legal duties, business trips, and hearings to manage. 

So I would advise applicants to prepare in advance and think ahead when it comes to applying for an MBA. For Round 1 applicants, it’s best to start in March, reach out to an admissions consultant, and go through the process in a thorough and organized way. Giving yourself enough time to create a strong narrative also gives you a head start when it comes to interviewing. So when you're asked about your motivations in your MBA interview, you've spent a lot of time with your consultant preparing those stories.

Q. How is recruiting right now for MBA students in the UK?

Matheus: It's intense. I’m looking into law firms, so my process is different to most people in my cohort. But the general consensus is that the UK is a very competitive market. 

One of the key factors is your network; the better your network here is, the easier your recruiting process will be. So that’s something you should start thinking about from day one. Reach out to professionals in your target industry, understand what recruiters are looking for, and keep in mind that you're going to change your mind a lot during your program! Very often, people come into the MBA thinking they want to get a job in a particular industry, but they realize that it’s not as nice as they believed it to be. It’s not a big deal; everyone knows that it happens. 

Also, keep your program’s length in mind. In two year programs, students typically spend the first year exploring their options and making connections. In the second year, they focus on recruiting. But a one-year MBA program like Oxford gives you less time to build a network, secure internships, and make your career decisions. It’s definitely easier if you already know what you want. 

Q. How was it working with a consultant? 

Matheus: While working with you, two things stood out to me: 

One: helping me tell my story. Sometimes, you have a hard time putting it into words. So once you’re talking to a consultant, you get a chance to look at it from an outside perspective. For me, it helped to organize and structure my thoughts logically with an external observer and make them concise. That was very valuable.

Two, interview prep. That was a key factor for me, because the way interviews are structured in MBA programs is very different to job interviews, especially back in Brazil. So I was very nervous! The first interview I had was with Oxford, and the last was with LBS. For Oxford, my interviewer was an industry advisor. For Cambridge, I had a retired MD from a big US investment bank. IESE had a group interview with a member of faculty, where we had to analyze a case and present it. For LBS, I had an alumni interviewer who was working in Brazil. The LBS interview lasted two and a half hours! But I had already done a good deal of interview prep with you, as well as 3 other school interviews before that, so things went smoothly. My conversation with the interviewer was centered around my goals, how the MBA would help, what I would add to the university, and what the university could do for me. The more interviews you do, the easier it gets.

All of SWC’s package clients have 4 mock interviews with different members of the team included with their package. Get started with your MBA application and interview prep by booking a free chat here.


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