Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Yesterday, I received an email from the “LexisNexis Law School team” about the release of a new white paper, commissioned by LexisNexis, on how law schools can develop writing and transactional skills “to address the demand for more practice-ready graduates.” The white paper, Hiring partners reveal new attorney readiness for real world practice, surveyed 300 law firm partners and supervising associates, and its “key findings include:
• 96% believe that newly graduated law students lack practical skills related to litigation and transactional practice.
• 66% deem writing and drafting skills highly important with emphasis on motions, briefs and pleadings[.]
• Newer attorneys spend 40% – 60% of their time conducting legal research[.]
• 88% of hiring partners think proficiency using “paid for” research services is highly important[.]
• Students lack advanced legal research skills in the areas of statutory law, regulations, legislation and more. . . .
• The most important transactional skills include business and financial concepts, due diligence, drafting contracts and more. . . .
• [L]aw firms spend approximately $19,000 per year, on average, to train a new associate[.]”
Without a doubt this survey can be helpful just as the white paper claims: “Law schools are presented with a great opportunity to improve upon the employment prospects of their graduates by focusing on certain practical skills that law firms most desire.” While critically important to practice, legal research and writing and drafting pleadings are not enough to ready law students to enter the profession. So-called “soft skills” like client-centered and culturally competent lawyering are equally important, not to mention ethics, and law students must know how these operate in practice. Not only do law students need to learn legal theory, but they also need to apply it in real world contexts, as the study recommends. Not all law students want to enter Big Law, but many feel pressure to do so, as the New York Times well.blogs reports. Integrating practice skills in legal education is precisely what clinical law does, and the effect is undeniable.
Just this week, as several of my clinic students graduate, I received this note from one woman who took one year of the domestic violence law clinic:
“I also want to say thank you for a wonderful year. Clinic was by far the best experience in law school for me. I learned more in Clinic practicing with you than in any other class during my three years. Thank you for teaching me to be a practical and ethical lawyer. I learned to keep my cool in stressful situations and most importantly, how to be a passionate advocate for my clients while maintaining a client centered approach.”
My clinic colleagues are posting similar expressions of gratitude from their students. Our students even report satisfaction in learning how to talk to court clerks, opposing counsel, and especially clients. They appreciate knowing how to navigate the courthouse and where to file pleadings and request transcripts. Not all of my former clinic students were happy, in full disclosure. Some complained clinic was too much work, or the subject matter was too emotionally taxing, and that is okay. There is value in ruling out what you don’t want to do.
This is my seventh year of clinical teaching, and I still feel incredibly lucky. What a privilege to guide the next generation of lawyers. My first former student is about to become a clinical teacher herself, and many others have asked me for guidance on how to get into clinical law. Not only does this make my heart swell with pride and gratitude for the best job on earth, but I also see this as proof of the clinic effect. It’s real.