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Monday, September 17, 2018

We are Not Alone

We in law schools are not alone  in our efforts to more effectively bridge the gap between professional school and the actual practice of the profession.  It is the vocabulary of our time—perhaps spurred by the general pace of life in an age of instant and constant communication.  Business, Pharmacy, Veterinary, Architecture, Speech Pathology & Audiology , Osteopathy, and Medical Schools are all proclaiming their progress in helping their students be “practice ready” so that they can “hit the ground running.” In the health sciences, the commitment to readiness for practice has resulted in a deep commitment to interprofessional training that reflects the realities today’s workplace.

Yet whether or not we should be doing this (let alone how) is still a matter of considerable debate that, unfortunately, has become wrapped in a false and unnecessary dichotomy between the scholarly  and the practical.  I hope that looking at how other professional schools prepare their students for post-graduation work life can help us get beyond a framing of this discussion that creates unnecessary stress and discord.  Study of the theoretical framework or historical development of a field is essential for all professionals so they can develop a deep understanding of the “why” as well as the “how.” Equally, there can be no effective skills training without substance.  The data on learning is in—everyone learns more in context than in a vacuum. (lots of great resources posted by Yale).

Perhaps some of the tension comes because one of the early justifications for increased emphasis on practice was to make students more attractive to the big law firms after the financial crash.  That never seemed likely and quickly revealed itself to be a myth. As Dr. Lauren A. Rivera explains in this article and in her book Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs the realities of large firm (law included) hiring are rooted in class and culture. And speaking of class and culture, another good reason for doing this is to level the playing field and send all our students with the tools they need to succeed in an environment that still very much skews in the direction of country clubs and old school ties.   

Nor did it seem plausible that with the right combination of courses newly minted lawyers without access to start-up funds, financial support, or a pre-existing client base could become self-sufficient solo practitioners   

But for the next two posts, I will talk about accessible resources for helping our students succeed in a job market that starts almost as soon as they arrive   Outside the big law firms, there is an increasing emphasis on expecting that students will have substantial exposure to work settings in clerkships, clinics, and externships before they go on the market for their full-time job. (This is true in undergraduate job searches as well).  Some of these placements can result in direct hires, thus turning  into an extended interview, but even placements that cannot offer permanent employment still have considerable value by their ability to offer informed, positive references. 

So, what can we do to prepare students to be successful in externships, summer jobs, and later on the job market?   The laws of physics prevent us from instilling judgement or experience in ways that would make our students appreciably different from graduates of the past.  [This is why law students who have had prior work experience tend to advance more quickly once they hit the market—they don’t know any more law than their classmates, but the maturity they bring with them in the world of work makes a big difference]. But  there are two major categories of things we can do to help.   

The first, which I discuss today,  includes the kind of training that  business schools have been offering for years: how to make a successful transition from student to employee/professional.   Many universities have entire career service departments that devote considerable type to developing very helpful information about things like dress and basic expectations of the workplace, that our students may have missed because they weren’t directly entering the workforce from college. The second is more specific to law and many schools are already far ahead in doing the kinds of things that students need to make the connection between what they learn in class and what lawyers do in practice.  More on that later.

Category 1--making the transition

In addition to the general information available at most universities, there are already terrific law-specific resources.

Nancy Rapport and Jeffrey D. Van Neil have a book called “Law Firm Job Survival Manual: From First Interview to Partnership” that should be required reading before a student so much as shadows a practicing lawyer.  Last year I highlighted Randolph Kiser’s Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer. Calvin Gladney calls these Wrap-Around Skills.  Our friends in the profession of Law Librarians have been way ahead on gathering information helpful to the new lawyer—see Harvard and American for examples, but look at your own library's website too. Also the ABA Young Lawyers Division, the National Association of Bar Executives, and indeed local bar associations are really shining in their efforts to be of assistance to new lawyers.  See DC, and Ohio as examples.  Finally, it is at best unfair to our students not to prepare them for the diverse world they are about to enter.  A good place to start is an ABA publicationWhat if I Say the Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People (ebook) by Verna A. Myers which has practical and helpful ideas specific to lawyers.

This kind of readiness training is also something our alumni and employers would be delighted to help us with—for example I once organized a boot-camp for first years before their first externships experiences that was primarily staffed by the local bar(both recent graduates and seasoned supervisors) as well as  by the heroic career services folks who got the calls when things went wrong.  

Next post:  Category 2- Integrating the practice of law into the existing curriculum (not just adding skills courses) so as to encourage the application of legal knowledge to legal practice.  Hint--we can find ideas in 1) the work medical schools have done in integrating their curriculums without reducing rigor or the amount of material each class covers as well as 2) in the creative programs developed by some of our most forward thinking colleagues.

Posted by Jennifer Bard on September 17, 2018 at 03:21 PM | Permalink

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