Important MIT Sloan School of Management program launched to help business leaders avoid Apple/Samsung legal Armageddons

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The legal Armageddon predicted as the outcome of the Apple/Samsung case underlines the strategic importance of business law. A timely program at MIT Executive Education aims to help senior executives get the best out of US and UK legal systems and to see them as are essentially business friendly. In its quest to prove that Samsung Electronics ripped off the iPhone, Apple’s final legal costs will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This may be money well spent. "If Apple wins, they now go and knock on every door of a company that builds a smartphone," said Roger Entner, an analyst for Recon Analytics. John Akula, Senior lecturer in Law at MIT Sloan School of Management explains the increasing importance for executives to understand the legal implications of their decisions.

John Akula

John Akula

‘Finance for Non-Finance Executives’ is a staple of executive education programs – but ‘Law for Non-Lawyer Executives’ is rarely seen.

“Lawyers, like doctors, tend to be cautious in their advice” says John Akula, Senior Lecturer in Law at MIT Sloan. This is not bad; one would not want one’s lawyer — or doctor — to be cavalier, but it means that to confer with legal counsel on every matter would bring business to a sclerotic halt. So at what point should an executive seek legal advice?

This question is a perennial one for senior leaders in any organization. As Akula points out, senior managers are much more likely to confront crucial law-related issues and to be consulting regularly with lawyers. The career path of successful managers often involves a shift from narrower technical expertise to broader responsibilities, but often without the training they had for their earlier roles. When law-sensitive issues arise they often find themselves in what is, for them, unmapped territory.

“Learning how to use legal advice and manage lawyers becomes an important skill” Akula says, but one that executives are rarely assisted in acquiring. ‘Finance for Non-Finance Executives’ is a staple of executive education programs – but ‘Law for Non-Lawyer Executives’ is rarely seen.

MIT is a fertile place for Akula to reach leaders who can benefit from legal coaching. “MIT is distinctive. It is cutting-edge and innovative, but practical and hands-on, with unusually close ties to the outside world. New technologies, and the creative business models they generate, are central MIT concerns and especially challenging — the law is playing catch-up, and there are more questions than answers.”

“People have to make many judgement calls without the benefit of legal counsel. Good managers need a highly tuned sense of how much risk is out there” notes Akula. They need what Akula calls “educated instincts” about how the law views them and their companies, and how and when to call on legal advice.

“The US legal system is business friendly but has hard edges. Our regulators are quick to impose criminal sanctions on companies and individual managers“ notes Akula. Civil liability is also a big risk, with contingency-fee lawyers and class action litigation by consumers, employees, and other groups, and “even civil litigation is a nasty business” says Akula.

The system is also unusually complex. “We are the pioneers in complicated contracts, transactions, and financial products. Our system of IP law is unusually intricate and contentious — look at the enormous recent growth of patent litigation as a business model.”

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1. About John Akula
John Akula trained at Harvard Law School, clerked at the highest court in Massachusetts, had a 15-year career as a practicing business lawyer, and was a partner in a major US law firm before switching to teaching. “I always had in the back of my mind teaching managers all the things I wish my clients had understood before they came to talk to their lawyers.” He started off at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where the executive education programs focus primarily on the public and non-profit sectors, but soon moved down the Charles River to MIT Sloan’s Cambridge campus, where the focus is the business community. AT MIT Sloan, he has primary responsibility for the business law curriculum and is active in the school’s executive education and international programs.

2. About IEDP
IEDP is an independent publisher of specialist information for leaders and leadership development professionals in large organizations, focusing on the latest developments, ideas and best practice being delivered by the world's premier business schools and consultancy firms. Learn more at

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Daniel Chadwick
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