[Guest post by Desiree Moore, founder of legal education program, Greenhorn Legal, and Adjunct Faculty Member at Loyola University Chicago School of Law]
I wrote this before reading Professor Moliterno’s post, “Time To ‘Do,’ Not Talk.” I believe we are aligned in our thinking with respect to practical skills training and this post proposes something similar to (or compatible with) what Washington and Lee has undertaken:
Law students, whether in their 1L, 2L or 3L year, should participate in an intensive “boot camp” of sorts that covers those practical skills not otherwise offered in a traditional law school curriculum. This is a streamlined and cost effective solution to the lack of preparedness new lawyers face as they embark on their legal careers. It is far more practical and easier to implement than any proposal to revamp law school curricula entirely. An intensive boot camp offered separate and apart from our existing law school curricula will also not interfere with the interests and objectives of our tenured professors (who are getting somewhat of a bad name here but who undeniably have defined so many of our law school experiences; they are not, by any means, disposable) or the venerable purposes of a traditional law school education.
To be clear, “practical skills” in this instance does not mean trial practice, deposition training, negotiations skills, etc. These are already being taught in many law schools and, while there is certainly a place for such skills courses, as a member of the hiring committee at a national law firm for many years I can assure you that landing a coveted law firm job (or any job in this market) does not turn on the ability to impeach a witness in a mock trial. (Clinics are useful, too, but can be disjointed and arbitrary in terms of what comes across a student’s desk and thus do not guarantee that all students who participate are exposed to a similar, wide breadth of skills that will prepare them for any job after law school.)
Rather, success in an interview or in a first job turns on professionalism, polish, demeanor, interpersonal skills, and the ability to converse in legal and non-legal matters. A young practitioner is invaluable if he or she can assimilate easily into a law firm or other legal practice setting, adhere to basic email and letter writing etiquette, anticipate the needs of more senior attorneys, actually implement core competency skills, and contribute meaningfully to client matters without significant instruction. In short, to be successful, young lawyers need to have an understanding of how a law firm or other legal practice operates and their role in helping that operation succeed.
In large part, these skills can be taught in intensive training sessions. For example, most ambitious, prospective graduates need only hear once that they should never go into an attorney’s office without a pad of paper and pen in hand. Or that it is proper to leave an assignment on an assigning attorney’s chair, and not desk or simply via email, if the assignment cannot be delivered in person. Critical skills such as how to work with staff, work in teams, manage time, bill time, and handle mistakes and negative performance evaluations can be taught in an intensive setting, as well.
Likewise, law students can benefit from exposure to many key core competency skills in an intensive setting. Law students have a solid foundation for these skills from their doctrinal courses to begin with and, in many instances, it is simply a matter of providing context. For example, the role of a new lawyer in performing due diligence, drafting certificates, or assisting with mergers and acquisitions can be taught in an intensive training session. On the litigation end, the timeline of a trial, drafting practitioner-style motions, and the basics of discovery can be taught in an intensive setting, too. If these intensive courses can supplement other skills courses and clinics like those offered at Washington and Lee and other schools, even better.
What’s more, law students are eager to learn practical skills. As an example, in the spring, Loyola University Chicago School of Law is hosting a three-day intensive practical skills training program for 3Ls through Greenhorn Legal. We opened registration for the program and, within 24 hours, 90 students (out of a class of approximately 240), the maximum allotted for the course, had enrolled.
If these intensive courses are offered pass/fail (that is, not for credit), law students may enroll free of charge (a gesture that, with all of the criticism surrounding the cost of law school and earning potential in the aftermath, will reflect positively on the law schools). It is inexpensive for law schools, too. Even at a modest price per person rate to execute the program, the figure will be an undetectable fraction of the cost students are paying to attend law school. We owe it to them, anyway.
I am with Professor Moliterno: “The time for hand-wringing is passed.” While the notion of a boot camp is not a solution to many of the problems cited in these recent blog entries, it is a step in the direction of preparing new lawyers to actually practice law.