The Demise of the MBA & The Rise of the LLM

2015-05-06 11:38:18

images-3llm.jpgEmpty Seats An MBA Case Study[1].

Thats the ominous sounding title of a recent in depth investigation by Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Janet McFarland into the dramatic decline in enrolments in Canadian MBA programs. As the title suggests, this is not a positive critique of the MBA. While acknowledging there will always be a need and corresponding role for a graduate business degree in the lexicon of education, its status has declined from one of general dominance to a marginal and/or niche focus. Even the traditional Canadian elite Ivey MBA at Western University is feeling the pinch. Over the past decade it has gradually reduced enrolment from 271 at its peak in 2005 to 131 in the current year, a 60% decline in enrolment. The Ivey example is instructive in illustrating that the decline of the MBA isnt a short term aberration in the educational marketplace but rather an indication of the extent to which the MBA has had its run as a stellar stand alone graduation degree and door opener to elite professional careers.

Readers wanting a reference documented comprehensive perspective can read the authoritative analysis of MBA education, Rethinking the MBA[2], that was published five years ago in 2010 predicting what journalists such as Janet McFarland would be reporting in 2015 in her excellent current analysis. Yes, as that study and the Globe article point out, there are the obvious criticisms with the traditional MBA model that mirror criticisms of the conventional Canadian and American JD law degrees; the programs of study are rigid in adherence to a traditional set of learning experiences and learning outcomes and the term length of study is too long for students who already have undergraduate degrees.

However, there is an even more fundamental problem with the MBA model in business strategy and implementation considerations .The business of business is no longer dominated by business considerations. Take the Keystone Pipeline as an example. The shipment of Alberta crude oil to Houston was supposed to be a no brainer win/win business proposition for Canada and the U.S. that would be approved in a matter of months. Six years later and counting the approval remains embroiled in a series of complex U.S. Federal versus State Rights and combative congressional considerations, potential incursion on sensitive Ogallala Aquifer land that irrigates much of the central U.S. prime agricultural land, as well as becoming the line drawn in the sand for environmentalists who nominally support the Democratic Party.

A corresponding conventional cost/benefit analysis that makes a strong business case for shipping crude oil across the country in east/west pipeline configurations for exports through ports has been pushed aside. Its become secondary to a growing range of considerations about aboriginal treaty rights, community concerns about safety hazards, the trade off between short term revenue gains and long term environmental degradation and, more recently, discussions about whether its time for Canada to draw its line in the sand about continuing to be an extraction dominated economy.


For those whove been looking outside the envelope and thinking outside the box in recent years there is nothing either startling or new in these types of developments. Take a read of Canadian acclaimed futurist Naomi Kleins recent best selling This Changes Everything[3]. Theres an emerging consciousness in developed western countries that its not the economy stupid, but rather considerations such as the political/social economy and corresponding sustainable environment that must now be the drivers of business considerations.

The foundation for the architecture of these emerging decision drivers is regulation. Although the talk is all about business the walk is driven by regulatory policy and strategy. Just take a look at the complex negotiations surrounding the current proposed free trade agreement between Canada and the EU for an illustration of how little this has to do with business and the extent its dominated by exchanges and trade offs between the regulated social economies of the respective parties. Closer to home the pending re-opening of the perennial Canada U.S. Softwood Lumber Dispute, has become a classic case study in the extent to which regulatory policy and the political rationalization associated with it to make the case for the economics takes precedence over business strategy in the decision making process.

The core learning experiences for any and all types of regulation are to be found in the innovative multi-disciplinary Combined LLM (Masters of Law) degrees that are now proliferating in the U.K. Unlike Canada and the U.S, an increasing number of UK law schools are now offering direct entry LLM degree programs to non LLB/JD degree holders who hold relevant undergraduate degrees. These are one- year (12 month) intensive study programs designed to provide students with the analytic tools to leverage their undergraduate degree learning experience into a linkage with the regulatory framework that is core to decision making in that discipline. An economics undergraduate combines economics with financial regulation. A finance undergraduate combines financial services regulation with banking regulation. A business studies undergraduate combines ethics with corporate governance or the regulation of business and sustainable development. A political science graduate combines public policy with international trade law and/or international commercial dispute resolution.

The list is as inclusive as the creative thinking the applicant brings to the table. Case study. I had a Canadian student make an inquiry about how to leverage her love of horse breeding into a professional career in the equestrian business. Friends suggested she explore getting a law degree and see where that might take her. She had little real interest in practicing law as such. Through some career coaching I had her connect with the Canadian equestrian association who in the course of discussion on the business of horse breeding/racing indicated the need for consultants conversant with anti-doping regulation in the industry. Shes now enrolled in a one year Combined Title LLM in Medical Law and Ethics that combines background studies in veterinary medicine with anti-doping regulation in the horse breeding/racing industry. Thats her door opener to a business career. Shes on the rise while her MBA counterparts are in the demise.

[1] Janet McFarland – The Globe and Mail Author. Janet McFarland. Business … Canada’s MBA problem: How business schools are fighting to stay relevant. The MBA field has … Mar 02, 2015.

[2] Srikant M. Datar, David A. Garvin, Patrick . G. Cullen, Rethinking the MBA ; Business Education at a Crossroads. Boston Harvard University Press. (2010)

[3] Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything. Toronto. Alfred A. Knopf (2014).