Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Tips For The Practitioner Seeking To Return To The Academy"

This article is by Professor Kevin Conboy (John Marshall - Atlanta), also a former partner at Paul Hastings, and is available at 14 Transactions 147 (2013).  From the introduction:

Law schools simply cannot prepare each law graduate well for his or her initial job or ultimate career. It is not possible. Predictability of career path is low; I was going to be Atlanta's next great international lawyer, and spent most of my career doing commercial finance transactions (lending law). In law school, I took Admiralty Law, but not Bankruptcy.

But what do law schools do to prepare law students for practice? In the television program "The Paper Chase," Professor Kingsfield, played by John Houseman , said in the trailer at the beginning of each new episode: "You enter law school with brains full of mush, and we teach you to think like a lawyer." Law students learn how to read and digest cases and how to use 'study aids' to reduce unnecessary brain cramping; how to cope with final exams, largely essay style (with the occasional "scantron" multiple choice exam or portion thereof), for doctrinal courses; how to prepare legal memos and perhaps a persuasive brief; or maybe even how to argue a motion, or a case on appeal. If a student takes courses such as contract drafting, deal skills, negotiation, trial practice or another clinical course or courses as electives, the student may be exposed to other skills. But it is still quite possible in 2012 for a law student to graduate from an ABA-accredited law school and pass a bar exam without having read a contract, a will, a deed or mortgage, a complaint, or an answer (much less having drafted such a thing); without having counseled a client, or even a faux client; without having negotiated anything; without knowing what an engagement letter is; or how to keep time or bill and collect. A law student is likely to know the rules regarding client conflicts from a course in Professional Responsibility, but not how to avoid client conflicts or what to do if one arises. As I said, while it is not possible to properly prepare each law graduate for his or her initial job or ultimate career, it should be possible (i) at least to expose all law students to rudimentary universal elements of practice, and (ii) for those students who know, for example, that they will be business lawyers of some sort, or litigators of some type, to give those students a running start.

Thankfully, the landscape of legal education is shifting fairly rapidly, and I hope to be a part of it. Here are my suggestions for the practicing lawyer looking to move into teaching.


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