Me and My Mini-MBA

By Erik Mazzone

The day started off innocuously enough.

I was in a meeting with my boss and I passed him a spreadsheet I had been working on. He has an MBA and has, shall we say, well-developed thoughts and feelings about spreadsheets. I majored in English and have well-developed thoughts and feelings on who is the vilest character in “Game of Thrones.” (Ramsay Bolton over Joffrey by a nose.)

After reviewing the spreadsheet for a couple of minutes, Jason looked up and said, “Hey … I have an idea. Why don’t you attend the Mini-MBA program in December?” His reaction wasn’t a total surprise. My spreadsheet skills could best be described as “Needs Improvement.” Microsoft Excel isn’t my love language.

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The Mini-MBA held in December 2018 was the NCBA’s first executive education program. I was excited about this foray. My time as the director of the Center for Practice Management convinced me that there are lots of things that lawyers want and need to learn that do not qualify for CLE credit. Executive education courses — intensive, short-format courses taught by professional faculty and not offered for CLE credit — seemed an ideal way to fill that need.

My excitement about the Mini-MBA, however, was in the abstract. I was glad we were offering it. I was a touch less enthused about actually attending it.

Will It Involve Math?

I’ve never had a single business class. Over the years, I cobbled together a modest array of tech and management skills from managing a law firm earlier in my career, but I’d never developed any real competence around accounting, finance or other things that involve math. The Mini-MBA curriculum featured a substantial block of time dedicated to that stuff. If there had been a two-hour session on art history, it could have been my own personal level of the Inferno.

More problematic yet, one of the other students in the small-format class was my wife.

Erik and Christine Mazzone met in law school. She was a talented and hard-working law student who graduated with high honors. He knew which Boston bars served free appetizers at midnight.

Christine and I met in law school, so my, ahem, relaxed approach to formal education would not be a surprise to her, if perhaps still a bit of a disappointment. Christine was a talented and hard-working law student who graduated with high honors. I knew which Boston bars served free appetizers at midnight. Somehow, I managed to persuade her to marry me, which I’d like to believe speaks to my advocacy skills but could just as easily have been a two-decade dare. In any event, I wasn’t supremely eager to revisit a shared academic space that might cause her to reconsider her marital options.

To say I was not in peak learning headspace on the first morning of the Mini-MBA is a mild understatement. But given that I couldn’t think of a single excuse that would get me out of a course that my boss “suggested” I take and that my wife would also attend, I was stuck.

Meeting Expectations

The coursework was intensively oriented to student participation and involved a lot of small group work. It’s not a sit in the back of the room and do work on your computer type of thing. The agenda was packed as the professors crammed semester-long courses into a few hours. The frequent group exercises helped cement the concepts into practical application. I enjoyed the information systems and management coursework, and I can honestly say the finance and accounting blocks were surprisingly interesting.

It was a lot of work, and the days were intense. All of the attendees had different things they were hoping to learn from the Mini-MBA, and as we traded thoughts and informal reviews at the reception on the final day, it seemed like the program delivered on those expectations. I’m happy to say, our formal attendee reviews confirmed that.

Our NCBA CLE team, led by Vaddrick Parker, worked really hard with the business school faculty to put together a curriculum that would provide maximum value. The course had to be compressed into a time frame that meant a minimum number of hours out of the office and delivered at a price that is a fraction of the cost of similar programs offered through universities around the country. They delivered on all counts. More executive education courses are coming in the weeks and months ahead. Check them out here.

As for me, I won’t say I exactly made friends with Excel. I’m still a little bit more IPA than EBITDA. But I did learn a lot… maybe even enough to go from “Needs Improvement” to “Meets Expectations”.


Erik Mazzone, JD, Mini-MBA, is the NCBA’s Senior Director of Membership Experience.