December 2, 2010
Starting with the Basics: Jones Day Partner Identifies Professional Legal Skills Neglected in the Law School Curriculum
Steven C. Bennett is a partner at Jones Day and has also taught as an adjunct law professor for twenty years at several New York area law schools. In When Will Law School Change? 89 Neb. L. Rev. 87 (2010), he offers what most practitioners and law students, if not the legal academy, would consider some readily apparent and certainly not difficult to implement ways to integrate neglected fundamental professional legal skills into the law school curriculum. By the way, I have a hunch Bennett knows first hand what he is talking about. He is a member of Jones Day's lawyer training committee.
In most cases, students receive little detailed instruction in the professional habits of good lawyers and are seldom shown samples of exemplary legal work or successful careers.
To provide a greater emphasis on the basics of professionalism, law schools might consider several steps. More team assignments (e.g., group writing projects or group work in simulations and clinics) could help remind students that they are entering a social profession where relationships with others, based on trust and integrity, is of paramount importance. Even if not structured as legal clinical training, students could engage in some form of group public service, including service to the law school itself, as part of their law school career.
Students should also get some experience as clients themselves, perhaps in role-playing exercises, to help them recognize the needs of those they may come to serve. Training in interviewing skills, counseling and negotiating—all among the most basic and transferable skills for use in practice—can help students develop a sense of the elements of lawyering that extend beyond pure legal reasoning and analysis.
Most students, moreover, would greatly benefit from some demystification of the profession. Students who are seriously considering opening a solo law practice after graduation, for example, need to know basic rules of law office management. In particular, students must recognize certain “defensive” aspects of practice: an effective conflicts checking system, retainer agreements, client trust accounts, professional liability insurance, and the like. Even students who plan to join larger firms could receive some essential instruction in the “nuts and bolts” of practice. Some exposure to the project management elements of legal service—such as, delegation of responsibilities, team meetings and communications, and even how to bill for time spent on a matter—would permit students to embrace good professional habits as they enter the practice. Career development training aimed at outlining the many career options and choices that students face, coupled with some form of access to representatives of the profession (e.g., speakers, adjuncts, mentors and other role models of “good” lawyers), could help students begin to identify personal goals and pathways to success in a legal career.
While I appreciate Mr. Bennett's suggestions as outlined here, those suggestions indicate he is not aware of what many law schools already offer their students.
E.g., at Emory Law, both our curriculum and our Career Services office make available precisely the kinds of experiences and training he advocates.
Posted by: Anne Rector | Dec 3, 2010 4:10:11 AM