Thursday, August 13, 2015
A new survey by LexisNexis finds that 95% of hiring partners and associates think law grads lack adequate practical skills
The survey, which LexisNexis commissioned from 5 Square Research, Inc., asked 300 hiring partners and senior associates who supervise new attorneys, from a variety of large and small U.S. firms whether new grads have the practical legal skills their employers want. The survey results have been published in a new white paper called Hiring partners reveal new attorney readiness for real world practice which is intended to help law schools identify which skills they should focus on to improve the job prospects of their grads. Among the findings:
Research skills: 86% of respondents overall believe legal research skills are highly important in young associates. 81% believe advanced legal research skills are also highly important and an even higher percentage, 88% reported that proficiency using paid research services is highly important. Considering most young associates spend between 40% and 60% of their time conducting legal research, proficiency in legal research is paramount.
Research competency in case law is most critical, but the ability to research statutes, court rules, citation analysis, jury verdicts, briefs and dockets were also highly important skills for young associates to possess upon hire. Young lawyers often lack advanced legal research skills such as researching more complex legal issues in cases, statutes and regulations, determining strength of validity of primary law, and legislative/administrative intent. The survey demonstrated that, along with drafting pleadings, advanced legal research skills presented the largest gap between the importance of proficiency and the percentage of new associates actually possessing those skills.
Writing skills: Approximately two-thirds of litigation attorneys deem Writing and Drafting Skills to be highly important skills among newer associates, but particularly when it comes to Drafting Pleadings, Motions, and Discovery Documents. More than half of litigation hiring managers indicated that newly graduated law students most often lacked practical experience in drafting of settlement agreements, briefs, dispositive motions, deposition questions and interviews, and jury questionnaires. The most important drafting skills are similar among small and large firms.
Transactional skills: 95% of hiring partners and associates whose practice has a transactional focus believed that new graduates are lacking practical transactional skills. The most important skills for new transactional attorneys are to understand fundamental business and financial concepts, conduct due diligence, find forms/checklists, draft simple contracts and agreements, and locate company information. The transactional skills most lacking in newly graduated law students included drafting substantive contracts and ancillary agreements, locating optional/alternative clauses, negotiating contracts and salient provisions and, among large firms, reading a balance sheet or basic financial statements
What is the Solution? Overall, law firm respondents found Litigation Writing and Drafting skills lacking the most, followed by Transactional Skills and Legal Research Skills. But how do law students and new graduates obtain more practical skills? There was support shown in the survey for certification programs that build upon skills obtained in law school. This would not only raise the bar for young lawyers but help them to more quickly become successful and valuable to their employer. In fact, as shown below, the majority (60+%) agreed that a certification in Research Skills, Writing/Drafting Skills, or Transactional Skills would be valuable on a candidate’s resume.
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For transactional area of law classes, “law schools could offer a negotiation transactions course where the students determine how to structure a transaction, find sample contracts and precedent deals, draft and negotiate key documents… and provide due diligence materials that create issues to be resolved.” Most attorneys involved with hiring and management of new lawyers agree practical skills can be effectively honed through clinics, internships, clerkships, and experience in actual or simulated application to a case. Practical skills that could be addressed in a classroom, workshop or clinical environment should offer a different kind of learning experience than they are receiving in law school already. The idea would be to bridge the gap between law school and practice, beginning with the law school experience. Increasingly, law firms are evaluating these skills during the hiring process. Integrating more practical skills instruction and experiences is the best way for law schools to better equip their graduates with the skills their future employers need, making them more marketable and better able to quickly contribute to their profession.
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You can read the white paper in its entirety here.