Monday, February 18, 2013
Training practice ready students is the current cliché in legal education. But, as Professor Ruth Anne Robbins (Rutgers-Camden) points out in her piece in the National Law Journal, the discussion often leave out the need to teach students to work with clients and understand their needs. Law graduates need to be “client ready.” Here are a few excerpts from her valuable article:
What lawyers and the public actually want from law graduates is a sense of how to work with clients. Lawyers are paid to counsel clients and to advocate for their clients, whether they are people, companies, governments or nonprofits. As FMC Technologies Inc.'s general counsel, Jeffrey W. Carr, said in the 2011 New York Times article, "The fundamental issue is that law schools are not capable of producing people who are capable of being counselors."
Learning the judgment needed to counsel or advocate requires students to engage with the nuances of a client's situation: the needs and goals in the legal matter at hand. To understand the situation, law students must grapple with the messy process of finding and understanding the facts. Otherwise, law graduates are left questioning the utility of something as elementary as using narrative structure for legal argument. Even the act of telling a story becomes foreign by graduation. Professor Ken Chestek of the University of Wyoming College of Law, in 2010, published a study of the persuasive effect of story in legal briefs, and was startled to discover that the only practitioners who were unsure of the persuasive effect of storytelling for a client were those who had just graduated from law school.
Skills courses will remain hollow until the professors fill them with real or real-seeming clients. Simulations will never substitute for live client contact, but they can certainly be infused with vivid detail that will allow students to work through the nature of clients.