Regular readers may recall my strong belief that young lawyers do not learn in law school the fundamentals of what they should know to practice law. In contrast to doctors (who put in years of residency, hospital and clinic work, and other apprenticeship before they begin their own practices), young lawyers begin their professional careers with little hands-on experience in “The Business of Law”® or practical client service. The result far too often is unhappy lawyers, unhappy law firms and unhappy clients as the young lawyers try to learn in “the school of hard knocks” what law schools did not teach them.
I’ve written about many possible models to provide this training – articling programs in Canada and the U.K., pro bono internships, law firm training apprenticeships, CLE specialist education, and more. Recently I surveyed the readers of LawBiz® Blog and asked whether they thought on-the-job training of new lawyers before they enter practice was a good idea. The unanimous answer was “yes.” As to what form this training should take from a variety of options presented, nearly 60% of respondents said that law firms over a certain size (revenue or head count), as well as public interest law firms, should be required to engage a pro rata number of graduates, whether they end up working for those firms or not. An even higher percentage of respondents, nearly 85% suggested that the courts (both trial and appellate) should make available clerkships for the graduates, or that law schools should create seminars and practicum programs to teach the skills lacking in the normal curriculum.
Especially interesting were a number of other ideas that the survey participants suggested. These practicing lawyers had some excellent thoughts on the type of training that would benefit those entering the profession:
Work at a company under the direction of an in-house lawyer (admitted to practice in the state where the work is done) with management responsibility within the legal affairs department.
Externships at government agencies such as the SEC, state securities commissioners, the Patent and Trademark Office, state corporations departments, state revenue departments, state legislatures and accounting/audit firms of a certain size.
Law school placement of third year students in extern programs, with the success and extent of the placement becoming a major criterion in evaluation of the school’s performance by U.S. News & World Report, Barron’s and others that evaluate law schools.
Requiring that all law school graduates who pass the bar exam serve an apprenticeship program under the direct supervision of a member in good standing of the bar who shall, at the conclusion of the apprenticeship, attest to the legal proficiencies of the new lawyer and recommend to the state bar that the apprenticeship be considered successfully concluded
Turning the third year of instruction in law school into an apprenticeship program, replacing the courses that are taken in the final year just to fill out the time
If you have other ideas, I’d welcome hearing them. Perhaps together we can begin a groundswell of opinion in which real lawyers, rather than just law school professors, have a say in legal education.