and class times I could elect for and I
worked on assignments during lunch
hour, which minimized my late nights,”
“Everybody’s spouses had to be in-
credibly tolerant as the MBA was very
Patenall says the fact that she has
both degrees doesn’t mean that she is
expected to make both legal and busi-
ness decisions on the job but it is de-
sired. She says her input is sought out
by departments that did not necessar-
ily discuss business decisions with her
prior to her obtaining the MBA.
“I am also more comfortable offer-
ing my opinion because I have a solid
business foundation influencing my
perspective. I feel it has increased my
value as a member of a large financial
institution, particularly in a time when
people are becoming increasingly well
informed in a variety of areas in busi-
ness and the way in which all aspects of
the company contribute to a cohesive
whole,” she says.
atenall will get no argument
from Mark Ng, senior legal
counsel at Pfizer Canada.
He decided to go to business
school after he had been at the pharmaceutical giant for a year because he
thought he could get a better understanding of the commercial environment
and considerations in his practice area.
No stranger to the classroom, Ng has
13 years of post-secondary education under his belt. He earned a B.Sc., then an
M.Sc. from the University of Toronto in
the 90s. Later he entered the law, earning his LL.B. at UWO in 2000. Then he
went to McGill University in Montreal
from 2007 to 2010 and earned an MBA
in international business/strategy.
“When we were dealing with marketing teams and talking about a CRM
initiative, I had to ask what that meant.
They’d have to tell me ‘customer relationship management.’ After the MBA, I
would know what the teams are trying to
achieve and how it related to the larger
strategy of the company,” he says.
sides. There’s a natural kinship that
wouldn’t be there if you weren’t able to
speak the same language.”
Ng says he found his fellow students
who got the most benefit out of the MBA
training were those who did it part time
and had several years of work experience
under their belts.
“I would recommend it. If you’re working as an in-house counsel, you’re more
of a business advisor with a legal background than you are a lawyer working in
a corporation,” he says.
As the legal needs of companies around
North America increase, the number of
in-house counsel being hired has gone
up, according to Jim Merklinger, Washington, D.C.-based vice-president and
general counsel of the Association of
Corporate Counsel (ACC). He says its
members have expressed a need for business skills for in-house counsel, such as
reading financial statements. The ACC,
an in-house Bar association, has 800
members in Canada and 28,000 in total,
most of whom are in the U.S.
“I think you can be successful in business without
an MBA but the degree gave me a solid business
foundation that I lacked.
— Grace Patenall, LL.B./MBA
Patenall says it’s possible the business
acumen she developed through her
MBA studies could be learned on the
job, but she prefers the route she took.
“Business acumen is a loaded term
because there are many who feel that
acumen is an inherent trait that cannot
be taught. I think you can be successful in business without an MBA but the
degree gave me a solid business foundation that I lacked coming out of law
school,” she says.
The MBA also amounted to a secret
handshake with many people both inside
and outside of the company, he says.
“That was especially true in the business
development areas. I could read the profit
and loss statements, look at the financial
data and discuss things that added value.
That wasn’t legal per se but it had a legal
angle to it. I find it generates a lot of trust
with our internal clients,” he says.
“You don’t have to tell them you have
a business degree. It’s a win-win for both
“Those skills weren’t being requested
20 years ago unless you were a tax law-
yer,” he says.