On Training Lawyers
John R. Lund, J.
"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
— Mark Twain
I'd like to pose some questions to the 238 Utah lawyers who first became licensed during the past year: Do you feel like you know what you are doing? Did the training you received during law school equip you to actually practice? Where are you turning for more information about the nuts and bolts of the legal work you are taking on? Or. are you mostly learning by doing, i.e. simply grabbing those cats by their tails?
Although I've directed these questions to our newly licensed colleagues, they raise important issues for us all. If incoming lawyers don't get good training and develop strong skills, it degrades our collective reputation. Indeed, regardless of the lawyer's vintage, when a member of the bar does shoddy work, fails to stay abreast of legal and technological changes or mishandles a client's case, it reflects poorly on us all. More positively, by improving our training and our skills, we can provide better value to Utah's people, businesses and institutions. And that will make us a stronger profession.
The legal profession makes a rather bold claim about the scope of a license to practice law. We say that someone with the requisite law school diploma who has passed the Bar exam and character and fitness review is licensed to do any sort of legal work. Of course we must fully comply with the very first Rule of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1, which requires "competent representation." And the rule says competent representation "requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation." So no, you cannot just take on any matter without being prepared to handle it competently. Subject to that, if an estate planning lawyer decides to start doing criminal defense work, that is her prerogative and her current license permits it. Indeed, Comment 2 to Rule 1.1 states: A lawyer need not necessarily have special training or prior experience to handle legal problems of a type with which the lawyer is unfamiliar. A newly admitted lawyer can be as competent as a practitioner with long experience. Some important legal skills, such as the analysis of precedent, the evaluation of evidence and legal drafting, are required in all legal problems. Perhaps the most fundamental legal skill consists of determining what kind of legal problems a...