Ashish Nanda had been teaching at Harvard Business School for 13 years when then-Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan approached him in 2007 with an unusual idea.

Kagan, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice, wanted Nanda to move to the law school to start a first-of-its-kind executive-education program for practicing attorneys. Unlike continuing legal education classes, which tend to focus on narrow areas of substantive law, Kagan and vice dean David Wilkins envisioned a comprehensive program designed to help lawyers develop leadership, management and business skills.

It turns out that Kagan was onto something. Five years in, Harvard’s executive-education program is thriving, with approximately 280 attorneys taking courses this year. “Filling the seats is not a problem,” Nanda said, adding that the prestigious Harvard Law brand and positive word-of-mouth from program graduates have helped bring in students.

Law schools have long lagged behind business schools when it comes to executive education, but a handful are moving off the sidelines. Their administrators view executive education both as a fresh revenue stream and an avenue to closer ties to practitioners and the legal industry.

Georgetown University Law Center launched its executive-education program in 2012 and has worked with about 200 attorneys thus far, said Mitt Regan, co-director of the school’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession. Although still in the early stages, the program already is generating a profit. “We are confident that the demand is there,” Regan said. “We would of course like it to generate more of a profit, but our projections are that it will grow.”

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is moving forward with plans to launch its Corporate Counsel College in early 2014. The school plans a slate of six weeklong summer courses covering topics relevant to in-house counsel — or to practitioners who aspire to move in-house — including intellectual property and business skills. The program is intended as an in-depth alternative to general counsel training programs that last just a few days. Participants could take as many of the five-day modules as they wish, and those who complete at least three will receive a certificate.

The executive-education offerings at Harvard and Georgetown both focus on leadership and management skills, but they take different approaches. Harvard offers a five-day leadership training session for highly placed law firm leaders, and a separate, weeklong session designed for junior partners or senior associates who are just assuming management responsibilities. Harvard also offers a three-day leadership program for in-house counsel. The costs range from $12,500 to $15,000 per person.

Georgetown’s main leadership program is broken into two three-day sessions spaced four months apart. Follow­ing the first session, participants are paired with a coach and asked to tackle a specific project before returning to campus to have their efforts evaluated. The school also offers a two-day introductory leadership program for midlevel lawyers. Georgetown’s programs range from $2,500 to nearly $10,000.

Both Georgetown and Harvard also offer training programs tailored to the specific needs of a law firm or legal department. For example, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy puts its midlevel associates through weeklong training sessions at Harvard.

Convincing firms to put their attorneys through executive-education courses has presented some challenges, Nanda and Regan agreed. The expense has been less of a deterrent than the time spent away from their practices, Nanda said.

The legal industry still finding its footing after the recession has also made the classes a harder sell, Regan said. Still, Nanda saw some room for growth should other law schools enter the field. Programs will thrive only if administrators provide a quality experience to students and think about executive education as more than just additional revenue, he added.

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