Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why law students should take more skills courses

From the Lawyerist blog:

Law Students Should Take Practical Skill Classes

99% of lawyer skills are learned after law school

That’s a pretty common statistic thrown out by practicing attorneys. I don’t think the percentage is accurate, but I do think the concept is spot on. Substantive law classes don’t teach you how to talk to a client, file anything with a court, deal with opposing counsel, etc. Finding the right mentor can help you acquire those skills after law school, but would’t you rather have at least some baseline knowledge?

Like anything else, law-talking skills get better with practice and experience. It’s not realistic to walk out of law school with the same legal skills as someone who has been practicing for years. At the same time, there is a big difference between a law school graduate who has focused on acquiring practical skills during law school versus the graduate who only took substantive classes. By most accounts, the former is more highly regarded than the latter. If you only need to learn 92% of your skills after law school, you are ahead of the pack.

Practical skill classes are more work, more instructive, and more fun

In early January, I was one of eight adjunct instructors for a one-week, 40-hour intensive practical skills class at a local law school. The class was one giant simulation that involved researching, negotiating, and drafting a complicated business deal between two parties. By all accounts, the class was an overwhelming success. Many of the students said it was the most work they had ever put into a class. Many students also said it was their best law school experience to date.

For one, law students get to walk and talk like a lawyer in most practical skills class. That is far cry from reading and regurgitating case law. Two, practical skill classes are designed around teaching skills to law students, not just teaching the substantive law of a particular area. Practical skills translate across all areas of law, whereas substantive knowledge is more restricted.

Three, practical simulations are usually pretty fun for law students. Some of the simulations are more daunting than others, but it is a chance to experiment in the sandbox. Do you really want your first “real” deposition to be your first deposition? Lastly, most practical skills classes are taught by, or heavily involve adjunct professors. They might not tenured faculty, but they are practicing attorneys willing to pass on their practical knowledge. Don’t underestimate the value of that.

Next semester, take a pass on Con Law Part Four, and take a practical skills class. You might even like it.



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