Apprenticeship for Lawyers

It’s always gratifying when one’s opinions receive outside support.  Sometime ago, I wrote that law schools really don’t teach the day-to-day aspects of being a lawyer – interacting with clients and running a practice – because such skills are seen as too “trade-oriented.” 

That viewpoint was echoed in a Wall Street Journal column by Cameron Stracher, professor at the New York Law School.  Stracher observed that law school students are “reading about the law rather than engaging in it,” with the result that “when they graduate, young lawyers rarely know how to interview clients, advocate for their positions, negotiate a settlement or perform any number of other tasks that lawyers do every day.”

What especially struck me in Stracher’s column, as I noted in previous writings, was the observation that, until our modern era, most lawyers learned their profession by apprenticing themselves to practicing lawyers, learning from them by watching and doing.  It brought to mind the difference between the way lawyers and doctors are trained.  Doctors, of course, put in years of residency as part of their training.  They work in hospitals and clinics, treat patients, observe other doctors as they go on their rounds.   Most doctors begin their medical careers with a very good idea of what they will face.

A number of larger law firms have or are creating education programs for their new, and even some continuing, associates. Just this morning, I learned from an “alumna” of the former Thacher law firm that she enjoyed her time with Big Law because this firm believed in continuing education for its associates. Also, Howrey recently announced the creation of an apprentice program for all of its new associates, rather than delaying their new hires as other large firms have done. And, in both Canada and England, there is a tradition of “articling,” very similar to an apprentice program. In other professions, such as accounting, an apprenticeship is required before granting the Certificate. There are other examples.

Should we return to an apprentice system for law school graduates before licensing them as lawyers? What’s your opinion?  Click here to take our short survey. Our survey will end at midnight, November 11th.

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