As many of us gear up for a smaller Summer Associate program, we find that we need to tweak some of the basic skills (or completely teach them) for many of those Associates. I hear a lot of griping at conferences about the skills that law students have when they are fresh out of their 2nd or 3rd year, so we thought we’d give all of you a chance to step up and let us know what you think would better prep these future lawyers for the profession they just spend $100K+ to enter.

We had a number of different perspectives on the issue, and we thank each of you for contributing to this week’s Elephant Post. As is our routine every week, we post next week’s Elephant Post question below and give everyone a chance to share their perspective on the issue. So, read through this week’s perspectives, then take a couple of minutes to look over next week’s question to see if you have any insight you’d like to share.

Toby Brown

#1 – The KM piece.  Law schools teach students how to look backwards.  I call this the great Paradigm of Precedence.  Although there is value in gaining and building critical thinking skills, doing so with such a past-focused lens is a recipe for failure in a world of constant change.

So law schools should stop teaching students how to look in just one direction, but should instead teach them how to look in all directions.

#2 – The AFA Piece.  Law schools should stop teaching law likes it’s an academic exercise not to be tainted by the evils of profits.  Instead they should give law students practical skills on how to run a profitable practice.  The reality is unprofitable practices correlate with poor client service.  If a lawyer can’t efficiently and effectively run a practice, then they really can’t practice.  Law schools would do well to better prepare future lawyers for this reality.

probatur denuo
Unemployed lawyer
Law schools should radically change, if not eliminate the third year of law school. Here are two suggestions for alternate uses of that final year:

1) Instead of silly electives that will never apply again, the third year should be a time of mandatory apprenticeship. During this time, the student can work at a law school clinic, complete a work/study cooperative with a government agency or law firm, or intern for a minimum of 20 hours a week at a company. This would help the students experience the “real” practice of law while they are under the benefit of the student practice order. The students would get genuine experience that would make them more attractive to potential employers, and they would also have a valuable chance to decide whether the practice of law is truly for them.

Schools should have an “alternative careers” department. If students decide law is not for them, an “alternative careers” department could help them identify their true interests as well as opportunities to develop other expertise outside of the straight practice of law.

2) Bar exam preparation has turned into a massive business, making a profit on the backs of desperate and frightened bar exam takers, some of whom are unable to pass the bar exam at drastic personal cost. I think a lot of this misery could be avoided if law schools implement mandatory for-credit bar review courses for the third year of law school. Ideally these courses could be structured around well established bar preparation materials (such as books published by Emanuel or Barbri), review the local law and include study skills and psychological preparation for high stakes exams. A course like this should be mandatory at all schools for the lowest-performing students, and optional for the rest. In fact, I even believe such a course can even be graded – with those students who receive a C or lower receiving further tutoring or perhaps counseling for alternative careers.

legal marketer
Business basics

Law firms can’t just keep raising fees anymore and very few partners have any concept of how to run a business efficiently, much less grow one. This has implications not only for the health of their firm but to how they approach corporate clients.

An english major/law school graduate may not understand budgeting cycles, cashflow and other basic business practices that their clients live by  – thus they are in danger of giving wildly impractical advise or at least dangerously undersestimating its impact on clients.

Next Week’s Elephant Post

What is the future of legal directories?  Are they still valuable?  If so, in what form?

This question came to us from Dallas law librarian, Kevin Miles. Yes, that’s right, you can send us questions you’d like to see asked for our Elephant Post series!! Let us know what you think about the future of legal directories. Where are they heading? Are they going the way of the horse and buggy, or are they evolving into something that looks nothing like its current configuration??