CEO Dreams With Lawyer Aspirations

Q: Hello, I am a hotel management student. I graduated recently and am working in a hotel. However I feel I should accomplish more in life. My goal is to become a CEO of a big corporation. Do you think going to law school and specializing in tax law might help? What other things do you feel I should do to get on the right track to achieve my dream? I am currently 27 years old.

A: Congratulations on your far-sighted ambition to become a major corporation's CEO. Rather than pursuing law school, however, I would encourage you to consider business school (for a Masters in Business Administration). Though some lawyers eventually move into corporate senior management positions, the route is long and circuitous, and there are many casualties along the way. (If you do pursue the legal route, you will probably discover that corporate law rather than tax will prove more relevant and helpful to you.) If you have a solid undergraduate record and good test scores, you should be able to gain admission to a good MBA program. This would teach you the wide range of business skills most valued in corporate management positions.

To test out the need for graduate level training, however, I would encourage you to take some time to get to know the corporate culture in the hotel where you are working. If possible, meet and spend some time with one or more of the hotel senior managers; perhaps ask to follow one around during part of a day, to see if you gravitate toward the type of functions performed at that level. Senior corporate positions require high-level skills in strategic planning, first-rate communication and human relations skills, and good "business sense." As you continue your work in the hotel, you will want to consider whether these are your strengths. If they are, pursue the MBA. If they are not, don't give up hope; there are many mid-level corporate management positions that are highly challenging and interesting. But I would discourage you from seeking to attend law school unless you have at least a fairly serious intention to practice law.

Funnily enough, there is actually a common perception that lawyers make poor corporate leaders since they often lack a technical understanding of many aspects of business. Lawyers tend to be much more conservative than corporate leaders. The perception within many corporations is that lawyers love to say "no" and are obstacles to progress. These perceptions may not always be fair, but in some businesses can be a real obstacle to advancement.

Schools are increasingly offering joint JD/MBA programs. Typically about 4 years long they might make sense for someone looking to acquire both degrees. However, JD/MBA programs have been heavily criticized for their additional time and expense, particularly since there are few or no jobs that require a JD/MBA. Many feel that those looking to do business need not obtain a JD and those hoping to succeed in the law typically don't need an MBA. This doesn't mean that JD/MBA programs aren't for anybody, but before jumping into a dual program you should carefully consider your goals and reasoning why this pricey set of degrees will advance them.