Thursday, April 5, 2018

Young Lawyer Editorial Board says "it's time to change legal education"

In a post signed by several attorneys who identify themselves as members of the "Young Attorney Editorial Board" (you can read about these Young Turks of law school reform here) at the American Lawyer website (nee magazine), the argument is made that the third year of law school is long overdue for a radical transformation. These recents grads say that law schools need to offer more clinical education opportunities, collaborative learning opportunities where students have to develop teamwork skills, as well as training in several practical skills like the technologies lawyers will use in practice, accounting, finance, and management skills. And, oh yeah, enough already with a single final exam in every course and instead, law profs, start using assessments that measure whether students can solve problems as part of a collaborative team.  Here's an excerpt of their editorial:

Young Lawyer Editorial Board: It's Time to Change the Way We Educate Lawyers

The expectations placed upon young lawyers have evolved over time. To keep pace, legal education must do the same. And there is a role for law firms to play, too.


It has been five years since President Barack Obama encouraged law schools to consider eliminating the 3L year. Yet despite his charge and calls for reform from practitioners and professors, not much has changed since then, or, in fact, since he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991.


This lack of change is in part because law school education works. The Socratic method teaches lawyers to think critically and on their feet. Traditional first- and second-year classes provide foundational knowledge and skills that all lawyers need.


But a lot about legal education is not working to prepare new lawyers for the realities of modern-day practice. A number of law schools spend too much time teaching to the bar exam, even though, thanks to technology, memorization is rarely useful in the practice of law today. Even where the focus is on training students to think like lawyers, three years of that is not necessary, particularly at a hefty price tag and at the expense of more practical training in the professional and networking skills young lawyers need to succeed.


Today’s young lawyers are expected to be facile managers. We are tasked early on with overseeing vendors and supervising teams conducting investigations, document reviews and due diligence projects. We deliver presentations, plan project timelines and “keep the trains moving on time.”


Today’s young lawyers need basic financial and technological literacy. Lawyers in every practice area are expected to understand their clients’ finances and craft legal strategies accordingly. Young lawyers are also expected to draft budgets for their clients and then stick with them. And we are expected to utilize cutting-edge technology to develop and maintain sophisticated organizational charts, spreadsheets and presentations. Beyond that, we are often expected to understand how our clients’ IT infrastructure works, and to craft arguments and structure deals based on that understanding.


Today’s young lawyers are also expected to be expert networkers. Unlike teamwork-oriented MBA programs, law schools have historically been competitive places. Yet we are expected from day one to build relationships with our colleagues and clients and to navigate office politics. And we are expected to start developing business early on—taking business prospects (or future business prospects) out for lunch or drinks, assuming leadership roles in bar associations, and establishing ourselves as experts in our fields through writing and presenting—all while carrying the heavy workload that has always been a rite of passage in our profession.


On top of all this, young lawyers are expected early on to take the lead on important documents and appearances. We are often asked to take and defend depositions, meet with clients, appear in court, manage closings or prepare first drafts of filings and contracts.


Despite the undisputed importance of these practical skills, they are rarely taught in law schools or even the law offices where many young lawyers start their careers. It is time for that to change, and every aspect of our profession has a part to play in that evolution.

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Continue reading here.


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