Law school training: bridging the gap between legal education and the practice of law.

AuthorDilloff, Neil J.
PositionSymposium on Legal Education

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION A. Efforts to Reform Legal Education Are Not New B. A Dual Perspective I. CHANGE: BOTH A CHALLENGE AND AN OPPORTUNITY FOR LAW SCHOOLS A. Basic Competence Out of the Starting Blocks is Required B. Law Firm Efforts to Train New Hires II. MELDING THE "THEORETICAL" WITH THE "PRACTICAL" A. Teaching Effective Communication Skills B. Writing for the Real World C. Talking: English for Lawyers D. Diagnosing the Client and the Case 1. Developing Judgment 2. Developing Problem-Solving Skills 3. Developing People Skills 4. Learning Teamwork 5. Learning Organizational and Time Management Skills 6. Developing Business Savvy 7. Learning How to Develop Business 8. Learning How to Supervise Others 9. Learning How to Focus on the Big Picture 10. Using Common Sense and Understanding Average People III. WHAT DO LAW STUDENTS AND LAW GRADUATES WANT TO BE TAUGHT? IV. WHAT DO EMPLOYERS WANT THEIR NEW HIRES TO BE TAUGHT? V. WHAT DO CLIENTS WANT LAW SCHOOLS TO TEACH? VI. A SUMMARY OF WHAT LAW STUDENTS, NEW GRADUATES, EMPLOYERS, AND CLIENTS WANT VII. HOW TO STRUCTURE WHAT NEEDS TO BE TAUGHT? VIII. HOW TO TEACH WHAT SHOULD BE TAUGHT? A. Student Role-playing B. "Real-life" Third Party Simulations and Demonstrations C. Getting Out of the Classroom IX. WHO SHOULD BE DOING THE TEACHING? X. A PROPOSAL FOR A MODEL LAW SCHOOL CURRICULUM XI. THE END GAME: BETTER NEW LAWYERS AND JOBS INTRODUCTION

Over the past several years, there has been a plethora of articles by law school administrators, (1) faculty members, (2) legal foundations, (3) practicing lawyers, (4) judges, (5) various commentators, (6) and national, state, and city bar associations (7) about the perceived gap between what currently is being taught in the nation's law schools and what various practicing members of the legal profession believe needs to be taught. In addition, law schools have conducted various symposia in which law school administrators, faculty, and practitioners have met and discussed ways to improve law school curricula so that what a student learns is immediately useful to the student, and to his or her employer, when the student enters the workplace. (8)

The backdrop for the renewed attention to making legal education more practical has been the dismal job market for lawyers, which is now entering its fifth year. (9) Law graduates are scrambling for jobs in a buyer's market. (10) Employers are looking for applicants who have the training, legal maturity, and experience to become instant contributors to the productivity of the firm, corporation, or agency. While few employers expect recent law graduates to be able to meet job demands without some acclimation and on-the-job training, many employers no longer have the time, will, or finances to dedicate to training new lawyers. (11) Accordingly, those law schools that are able to turn out "finished" work-ready graduates will move to the head of the pack, and their graduates will have a leg up in this uncertain job market. (12) This Article will explore ways for law schools to accomplish this mission.

  1. Efforts to Reform Legal Education Are Not New

    For many years, practitioners and judges have complained about the "inability of recent law school graduates to handle basic legal matters." (13) While the nation's law schools have partially responded to these criticisms with more clinical courses, (14) there has been little comprehensive change in how lawyers are trained. In 1992, the American Bar Association's Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar published a report entitled Legal Education and Professional Development--An Educational Consortium, commonly known as the MacCrate Report, (15) and in 2007, the Carnegie Foundation published Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, known as the Carnegie Report. (16) Both reports made suggestions for improving the immediate usefulness of legal education to its "customers"--the law graduates and their employers. It is telling that both reports essentially advocate the same improvements--yet they are fifteen years apart. While some inroads have been made during the last twenty years, it has now been over five years since the Carnegie Report's publication, and symposia and articles, such as the present one, are still being written about the need for change. Some law schools are starting to innovate, albeit not in any across-the-board manner. (17) For example, in 2012, Northeastern University School of Law created a "Legal Innovation Lab," which is designed to identify and cultivate "visionary new approaches to legal education and the delivery of legal services." Among other things, the lab will take on client-generated projects. (18)

    Notwithstanding the continued creation of clinics and labs, the nation's law schools have not yet taken any comprehensive actions to bridge the gap between what law schools teach and what practicing lawyers need to know on day one of their first full-time job. (19) Even the value of a law degree has been questioned. (20)

  2. A Dual Perspective

    I have a dual perspective on the issue. First, I view the new associate from the perspective of a senior partner in a large law firm. (21) I have mentored, trained, and utilized dozens of first-year associates over the past thirty-six years. Second, I have been and continue to be a teacher. For many years, I was the head of our firm's in-house litigation training program. I continue to actively participate in it. Since 1983, I have taught continuing legal education to hundreds of lawyers on a variety of litigation-related topics, and for the past six years, I have served as an adjunct faculty member at two law schools and continue to teach at both. Accordingly, I have had the opportunity to observe "not-yet lawyers" during their last formative years before becoming members of the bar (22) and brand new lawyers right off of the assembly line.

    While most new lawyers are bright, few have been taught enough of the basics of practice-ready skills--both "soft" and "hard"--that let them jump into the real-world fray with confidence. While there has been and continues to be recognition of this educational gap and some efforts have been undertaken to bridge it, much more can and should be done by the nation's law schools to enhance the level of legal maturity and proficiency of their graduates. More practically, such training will serve the graduates well in this era of declining opportunities for lawyers. (23) Accordingly, this Article seeks to provide concrete suggestions, thoughts, and recommendations from the perspective of one who has the opportunity to view the issue from both sides of the fence. In addition, I have obtained input from my law students, associates, and partners. Interestingly, all of us agree on almost everything. Accordingly, if the following suggestions are implemented, they will go a long way to bridging the educational divide between the classroom and the practice of law in a way that would satisfy both law students and employers. The objective is simple: law school graduates should be able to hit the ground running upon graduation.

    This Article will explore ideas on how law schools can meet the needs of both their students and their future employers, why law school is the place to develop basic workplace competencies, what these competencies are, and the desire of all key constituencies--students, new graduates, employers, and clients--to have law school teach them. The Article will then proceed to discuss an appropriate structure for teaching these skills, how to teach them, Who to teach them, and it will end with a proposed model curriculum.


    It is the first day on the job for our hypothetical law school graduate. She has been fortunate enough to land a job in Biglaw. She has outstanding academic credentials, has had summer jobs in the legal field during her time in law school, and is more facile with technology than any of the firm's partners. But is she ready to practice?

    Unless she has a general understanding of the way law firms operate, including how her new law firm operates, (24) how to deal with her secretary (who also services three other lawyers, including a senior partner) and her paralegal (who also works for five other lawyers, including two partners), has her eye out for a potential mentor, has the "people skills" to seek out the right lawyers for whom to work, has an ability to ferret out the type of assignments she likes and clients for whom she wishes to work, and has developed a can-do, pleasant attitude, all the "book learning" in law school will be of secondary value. Many of these skills and instincts can and should be taught before entrance into the real world of law practice. Many, if not all of them, easily can be integrated into both core and specialty law school courses without any sacrifice in the learning of core legal principles.

  3. Basic Competence Out of the Starting Blocks is Required

    While our hypothetical student has captured a high-paying prestigious job in a large law firm, the same lessons and skills apply across the board to every type of legal job. As a matter of fact, they may be even more important in a small law firm, in a non-profit such as Legal Aid, or in a government agency (for example, the public defender's office), where there is less time to get acclimated and the pressure of immediate business may put the new lawyer on the firing line even sooner. There may be little opportunity to seek out a qualified mentor. The atmosphere may be hectic or even chaotic. Even in a not-for-profit setting or public law employment, the present-day nature and economics of the legal profession mandate that a new lawyer earn her keep as soon as possible. For-profit employers not only require an immediate economic contribution, but immediate competence in, at a minimum, basic legal tasks.

    In the "old days," some law firms had...

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