Much has been written and discussed about how law school graduates need to be “practice-ready.” The first of PBI’s Town Hall webcasts on the Future of Legal Education explores that problem in more detail (Tuesday, March 31, at 12:00 noon), by asking what skills, competencies, knowledge and talents an outstanding lawyer should have, and when, in the continuum of the lawyers’ career, they can best be learned.
Historically, lawyers have almost always had the opportunity for practical training. In the early days, most lawyers simply worked in a law office, learning the substantive law, procedures and skills from their employer. When law schools became the norm in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lawyers gained an academic background and continued to learn the practical skills after they entered practice. Sometimes this training was required, as with PA’s preceptorship requirement. Sometimes it was the first employer who found it to be in their best interest to take the time to mentor and train new associates.
The 21st century has seen a dramatic change in the economics of law practice, which has had a negative impact on this post-law school training. No longer could firms have a litigation associate sit “second chair” in depositions and trials. No longer could transactional lawyers take the time to mentor new lawyers in the nuances of legal drafting. The clients would not pay for these traditional training techniques and the economics of law firms weighed against them because of higher and higher billable hour requirements.
As the crescendo of criticism about new lawyers continues, our Town Hall attempts to face the issue head-on. First, we attempt to delineate the skills, competencies and talents that epitomize outstanding lawyers, the types of characteristics frequently learned after law school. Although the literature is filled with critiques of new lawyers, there is little analysis of exactly what is meant by “practice-ready.” The required pragmatic training, first preceptorships and later mandatory CLE, notably lacked any direction on what should be taught to make lawyers better.
Next, the panelists of PBI’s Town Hall discuss when these skills and competencies should be taught, and who, the law schools, legal employers, the organized bar and its CLE components, should do that training.
Over the coming weeks, we will summarize the comments and suggestions of our March 31 webcast. Our panel brings diverse and extensive background in identifying what is working, and what is not.