Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The most important skills law firms require new grads to possess - writing is among them

The New York Law Journal includes a special insert this week devoted to advising 3L's on how to hunt for jobs and what skills they'll need once they bag their prey.  One of the articles, What Law Firms Want in New Recruits, (if that link is wonky, try this one instead and click through to the story) includes an informal survey of several "practice chairs, hiring partners, and recruiters" about the things law schools can be doing to better prepare students for practice and what law students themselves can do better to ensure they hold whatever job they land. 

Among the most important skills law students need to develop, according to those surveyed, is the ability to write.  One partner said that very few law grads can write well.  "Constructing grammatically correct sentences is not the problem.  Rather, the ability to organize facts and principles in a crisp, logical way is what's lacking in many newcomers to the firm."

According to clear writing guru William Zinsser, who was interviewed for the article, "writing is thinking on paper.If a lawyer's writing is muddled, clients may assume his/her thinking is too."

Duke law school is praised in the article for taking writing instruction seriously beyond the first year with electives such as "Writing for Federal Litigation," "Writing/Drafting Legislation," "Writing for Publication" as well as several workshops like "Writing from the Reader's Perspective" and "Legal Writing Craft and Style." 

The article goes on to suggest that writing programs substitute larger writing assignments with several smaller ones based on a suggestion made by Harold P. Southerland in his 2005 article English as a Second Language - or Why Lawyers Can't Write, 18 St. Thomas L. Rev. 53 (2005).  As Professor Southerland says: "Law is a house of words, utterly dependent on language.  Other than integrity, it is hard to think of any quality more vital to a lawyer than literacy."

Interestingly, if there was any skill more important to those surveyed than writing, it is business acumen.  Respondents were unanimous about law schools needing to offer a course in "Business 101" to teach students how a business runs and help them learn business development skills.  Among the other suggestions:  Teach students "the economics of running a law practice, how to develop new business, how to network, how to interact with opposing counsel, how to conduct client meetings, the need for efficiency, and the importance of time and project management." 

The NYLJ article is password protected - however, by going here, you can register for free and thereby gain access to the entire insert which also includes an article offering advice to 3L's hunting for that most elusive prey - a job.

If you are already a registered user of the NYLJ, you can access What Law Firms Want in New Recruits here.

Hat tip to the TaxProf Blog.

I am the scholarship dude.


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I always take it with a grain of salt when the law firms say what the law schools need to teach so our graduates will be better prepared to work for them. Law firms bear responsibility too. Increasingly, firms want all training and mentoring to be the job of law schools and bar associations, leaving the firms free to focus exclusively on the bottom line. (Then you get the same push-down within law schools to encapsulate all skills training into, say, a one-year legal writing course.) That is not how a profession is supposed to operate. Of course law schools should do all they can to prepare students for practice (maybe not "of course" as remarkably not everyone agrees on this core mission), but there is no substitute for the mentoring, training, and experience gained in professional practice. The fact that the firms are now calling for law schools to teach business skills including networking and "how to develop new business" only underscores this point. Law firms should look not only to law schools, but in the mirror as well.

Posted by: Claire Robinson May | Apr 30, 2009 9:20:49 AM

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