Tim Wakefield was called to the Bar in 2001 and practised as a barrister until June 2007. However, during the last 18 months of his time in Chambers, he did a part-time MBA at the London Business School. We asked him about mixing work with study, why he wanted to make a change from law, and about the job options available to lawyers after doing an MBA.
mtl: Hi Tim, please can you start by telling us about your legal career.
Tim: I studied English at University, and in my second year decided that I would convert to law when I finished my degree. I did the CPE in Guildford and then spent a year doing the BVC at the Inns of Court School of Law. I took the barrister route because I enjoyed debating and public speaking.
My pupillage was at Crown Office Chambers, which is a large civil/ commercial law set. Being a pupil is a fairly painful experience as it is basically a year-long interview with no guarantee of a job at the end. That uncertainty and the sustained level of continual assessment were pretty stressful.
Having survived my pupillage, I was taken on as a tenant in October 2002. One of the big advantages of Crown Office Chambers was that I was able to do a lot of court work. I spent the first 18 months on trains around the country arguing about wet carpets and people tripping over things... At the time it was great fun and I enjoyed being in and out of court. Over the next few years I specialised in professional negligence and construction work which was also interesting and fun.
However, after four years of practising law, I realised that I didn’t want to do it for the next 25 years. The decision was made gradually, and was partly due to the frustration of being in an advisory role and also with having to deal with other people’s problems all of the time. I decided that I wanted to do something that I felt was a little more constructive so that I could see concrete results from my work. Fundamentally I don’t think that the cut and thrust of being an advocate in court fulfilled the expectations that I had of it. For a while I thought about being a solicitor instead, but then decided that what I needed was a move out of the law itself and the litigation process in general.
mtl: So how and why did you decide to do an MBA?
Tim: I had only ever thought about having a career in law and hadn’t really considered other career paths properly along the way. Although I wanted to change career, I wasn’t really aware of the opportunities out there for me. I therefore spoke to quite a few people who had already left the Bar and started to become more aware of the options available. This was incredibly useful as it gave me lots of ideas.
One of the options that materialised was to do an MBA. I was put in touch with people who had already finished the course and realised that to do one is a great opportunity to meet lots of people who have done a range of different things. You can therefore dip your toe into many different areas and find out about careers that you wouldn’t know about otherwise. My reason at that point for doing an MBA was therefore to talk to lots of people and find out about their experiences.
I looked at several different schools, including one in Geneva, which was very tempting. However I decided that the London Business School was the best place to do it as it has a very good reputation in the UK, where I am likely to have my career, and also because it was more practical from a personal point of view. The next decision was whether to do it full-time or part-time. An MBA is expensive (about £40,000), so for financial reasons, I did it part-time and carried on working. The full-time course is the same length of time, but with a three month work placement included and there are extra electives to take.
mtl: How did you fit it in with your day job?
Tim: As a barrister you at least have the luxury of being able to manage your diary. This made the part-time option more manageable for me. I started the course in January 2006 and spent every other Friday and Saturday in school. In between classes I had two or three assignments to perform and each week I had a two hour conference call in the evening with my study group. This resulted in a presentation or report to the class. We had exams at the end of each term and a couple of international field trips, including to the Ukraine and Cape Town.
I studied every Saturday that I wasn’t in school and generally three evenings a week, for the 18 months that the course took... In the weeks that I was not in school I also tried to do a half day’s work on the Friday. This was quite a struggle to begin with. I was fortunate to have a good relationship with my clerk and he helped me manage my diary and the workload throughout the course.
mtl: So what are the benefits of doing an MBA?
Tim: Firstly it is a really great experience. The students come from everywhere, so it is very international. The course is an excellent opportunity to meet and talk (in an open and constructive environment) to interesting people who have worked in all sorts of different areas e.g. corporate finance, industry, marketing, advertising, travel etc. Lawyers who want to move to a business role need to do something to make the step, and doing an MBA demonstrates and proves their commitment to move. It opens doors to opportunities…
Having not really received a great deal of personal feedback during five years of being a barrister, I learnt a lot about myself during the MBA, particularly through working in study groups. They consist of about five people and you get to find out about people’s strengths and weaknesses in a non-hierarchical setting, which is a very useful process – I am much more sensitive to the group environment now.
The teaching is excellent, with great lecturers who are highly skilled at communicating. You get a great insight into all areas of business through case study examples, which are based on real deals. It is a very good way of learning because people will chip in with what they already know.
I found that it was also a good opportunity, having been in law for so many years, to bench mark myself against other people. One of my worries was how I would compare and I quickly realised that my legal training had been very good. I was able to analyse problems carefully, which was a real bonus and something that others found harder. I also learnt how anal we become as lawyers!
mtl: Was it difficult to get on to the course?
Tim: The perception is that it is very competitive but I don’t think that it is too bad. You have to do a time-consuming application form and an interview. You also need a reasonable score in your GMAT – close to 700 out of a maximum of 800 points. The interview process is with alumni of the School who ask you questions and assess your suitability.
One of the main problems would be fitting in with the class profile. Each intake needs to be international, have the right male/female balance and a sensible representation from each industry. I was one of two lawyers in my class. The more lawyers that apply at the same time as you, the harder it would be to get in.
mtl: When you started, what career options did you expect at the end of your MBA and were these realistic with hindsight?
Tim: When I started the MBA I thought that I would go into management consultancy for a few years and then move to industry. During the course, I formed the view that starting again as a management consultant would be pretty similar to returning to life as a trainee barrister i.e. very long hours and a basic level of work. I decided that I was not prepared to go through that again, particularly because my wife was pregnant and I wanted a better work/life balance. Added to that was the fact that being a management consultant is also an advisory role, which was one of my frustrations with practising law.
There is a very good careers service at the London Business School. Their advice was that I should do something law related. They tried to persuade me to be an in-house lawyer which was not really what I was looking for. However, their comments alerted to me to, and drove home, the fact that I needed to do something which was still relevant to my CV. This narrowed the field that I was able to look at, but it has made the transition out of law easier.
When I finished my MBA, I left Chambers to start a business development role in the publishing/ information business. The course has ensured that I am well equipped to do it and I doubt I would have got the role without having done an MBA. I am using my litigation experience in a very specialised way and in a business setting, which provides the stepping stone from law to business for me. It is early days but so far I am enjoying it.
I think the main thing for lawyers to realise is that an MBA is very good for your CV but you can’t change out of law just because you have one. You still need to find a role that grows out of your previous job, unless you want to go into consulting or banking or set up your own business. So, before you sign up, think hard about your exit route and be realistic about doing something that grows out of your legal experience. You could try to ask the London Business School for some career advice in advance of starting an MBA. They are very good at putting you in touch with useful people to speak to.
mtl: Thanks very much for your time Tim.
CPE, College of Law, Guildford
BVC, Inns Of Court School of Law
Called to the Bar
Pupillage, Crown Office Chambers
Tenant, Crown Office Chambers
MBA, part-time at the London Business School
Business development role