A November 20 New York Times article (“What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering” by David Segal) discusses how law schools are not teaching the practical aspects of practicing law. Law schools have long focused on the theoretical over the practical, but now among many top firms there is a growing cry for more applicable training.
The article goes on to elaborate that many corporate clients are now requiring that first and second year associates not appear on their bills, as they do not want to be the ones paying for legal training of new hires. Consequently, Philadelphia law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath actually requires its first year associates to take practical lessons on the practice of law from partners within the firm. The associates then spend four months getting a primer on corporate law and are paid at a lower rate than they are upon completion of the tutorial.
In the Times’ interview with Jeffrey Carr, General Counsel at FMC Technologies, Carr noted: “The fundamental issue is that law schools are producing people who are not capable of being good counselors. They are lawyers in the sense that they have law degrees, but they aren’t ready to be a provider of services.”
Some law schools are trying to change this paradigm. Edward Rubin, a former Dean of Vanderbilt Law School implemented new courses aimed at teaching the basics of practicing law. Rubin also met with partners at various successful firms and asked what they were looking for in new hires, and what they wished they were taught.
As a result of his findings, new first-year classes were added and others adjusted to reflect hiring needs by teaching more real-world skills. In his interview with The Times, Rubin stated: “We should be teaching what is really going on in the legal system not what was going on in the 1870s, when much of the legal curriculum was put in place.”
While a theoretical base is still critical, today’s law school graduates should also be learning how to land a client, draft a contract and plea bargain in a litigation matter. These skills will be invaluable in making young J.D. associates successful long term practitioners.