Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Beyond the 'Practice Ready' Buzz: Sifting Through the Disruption of the Legal Industry to Divine the Skills Needed by New Attorneys by Jason Dykstra
"A heightened velocity of change enveloped the legal profession over the last two decades. From big law to rural practitioners, the traditional law firm model proved ripe for disruption. This disruption is fueled by several discrete changes in how legal services are provided, including technological advances that allow for the automation of many routine tasks and the disaggregation of legal services; enhanced client sophistication and cost-consciousness; global competition from offshoring routine legal services; the rise of the domestic gig economy, creating a new wave of home-shoring legal services; and competition from non-traditional legal services providers. In the face of declining revenues, rapid systemic changes, and burgeoning competition from near and far, law firms have shuttered many of the traditional mentorship opportunities for new attorneys. Firms have also curtailed many once-billable activities that formerly served as profitable training grounds for new associates at law firms.
Given this new norm, students must emerge from law school both ready for practice and prepared to immediately generate revenue, whether they ply their practice-ready skills as contract attorneys, associates, in-house counsel, or solo practitioners. This Article proposes designing a required, upper-division legal writing class that incorporates the skills most needed by new attorneys entering the practice of law. The data shows that most new lawyers are destined for private practice, whether with small firms or as solo practitioners, and most likely, this private practice will include civil litigation. Since most civil litigation resolves by settlement or dispositive motion, new lawyers will focus primarily on pretrial civil litigation. Given this reality, the Article proposes requiring an upper-division legal research and writing course designed to introduce practice-style legal research and writing. This course would serve as an analogue to introduce the pretrial civil litigation skills most needed by new attorneys."
Key point: "Since the curricular migration of legal education from apprenticeships to formal academic settings, critics periodically push for the reincorporation of practical skills into legal education. The latest buzz amidst law schools encompasses the notion of a “practice-ready” legal education. While many law schools trumpet their “practice ready” bona fides, the concept of what constitutes a practice-ready curriculum varies widely and its efficacy proves somewhat illusory. Despite incremental changes, “[t]he core of the law school curriculum . . . has not dramatically wavered.” Some schools merely affix a “practice ready” moniker upon existing course offerings that already include experiential courses like externships, clinics, and practicums. Some of these courses may provide a good analog to the actual skills needed for many practice settings, while others prove too granularly focused or tangential to the civil litigation skills needed for most legal practices. Other notions of a practice-ready curriculum range from the remedial to the innovative.202 Assembling a dauntingly long list of assorted skills that are viewed as key for newly-minted attorneys could make the creation of a practice-ready curriculum rather cumbersome." (emphasis added)