Monday, August 12, 2019
This summer I've been working on an article about embedding student character training in law school which has been inspired by my recent experience as a visiting professor in the legal studies department at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I was so impressed by the maturity, professionalism, and character of the cadets I interacted with at USAFA that it has caused me to explore whether and how character development can be taught in a law school context. The short answer is that "yes" it can be taught in law school as it is in several other civilian contexts. In fact, it turns out that in the early history of higher education in this country (including law school) the central aim was to graduate students of character who would be good, civic-minded stewards of the democracy. The reasons that priority changed over time is something I discuss in my article. In researching the history of character education in this country, school faculty have always played a vital role in serving as mentors to students by helping to train them in the values and behaviors they want students to emulate. Indeed, both the practice and study of character training is pretty clear about the vital role mentors play in achieving those pedagogical goals.
That's a bit of a segue into the following article from the Legal Intelligencer that makes a pitch for the role mentors play in achieving the goal of nearly all law schools today - graduating students who, if not practice ready, will become so in short order. Based on my research into the role mentors play in character education, I'd state it even more emphatically than this article: You can't hope to produce (near) practice ready law graduates without the help and cooperation of experienced mentors in practice.
A need exists to bridge the gap between the fledgling attorney fresh out of the nest to seasoned counsel capable of tackling challenging problems and seeing around corners to predict pitfalls. How does one morph from neophyte to veteran? Mentor up!
While law school may offer an education in foundational legal theory, young lawyers learn the practicalities of the profession in the trenches. Three years in the classroom digesting and applying case law, discussing legal theory through the Socratic method, and even time spent working in legal clinics simply does not translate directly to the practice of law. Thus, a need exists to bridge the gap between the fledgling attorney fresh out of the nest to seasoned counsel capable of tackling challenging problems and seeing around corners to predict pitfalls. How does one morph from neophyte to veteran? Mentor up!
The primary factor lacking in a young attorney straight out of law school obviously proves to be experience in the field. Experience can be accomplished with time, hard work and venturing into new frontiers, but the experience can also be borrowed. From who? Your mentor. If you have done your job when selecting a mentor or mentors to guide you through the early years of your legal journey, you likely have chosen a mentor or mentors with a significant edge in experience.
When encountering unfamiliar terrain in the course of your early practice, lean on your mentor and borrow from your mentor’s years of experience. This is when the theory discussions previously limited to the classroom can be adapted to practical scenarios seen in the courtroom. A young attorney should seek out a mentor before venturing into a new situation to limit uncertainty and apprehension.
Experienced attorneys remember plenty of their firsts, including live testimony in the courtroom, a medical deposition or counseling a client face-to-face. Without a doubt, the feeling of accomplishment achieved by overcoming such hurdles yields memories that last the lifetime of a career. To ensure those memories prove to be positive ones, formulate a strategy, borrowing from your mentor’s experience, in order to guarantee success. Odds are, your mentor has seen your scenario on countless occasions and can provide insightful advice aimed to steer you in the right direction.
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Law school in the overwhelming majority of instances falls short of providing a young attorney with the skillset needed in order to manage the business side of the practice. During the first few years of practice, the young attorney aims to develop a library of legal knowledge within an area of practice and hone skills required to execute the various tasks associated with managing a caseload. Venturing beyond that point, the young attorney will be seeking to build a book of business of his own and the backing of a mentor can prove to be invaluable.
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Continue reading here.