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Law Students Practice Readiness

November 30, 2015

Many law schools are trying new approaches to providing practical training for future lawyers to prepare students for the reality of day-to-day legal practice.

The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, which issued its final report in January 2014, heard from recent graduates “that they received insufficient development of core competencies that make one an effective lawyer, particularly those relating to representation and service to clients.” This finding was echoed in the responses received from a survey conducted of lawyers as part of the launch of the Legal Profession PREP Class™, in 2013 for students and recent graduates of Chicago-area law schools.

The key question in the survey was “Are new lawyers well-prepared to succeed in entry-level positions?” Fifty-four percent of respondents answered no; thirty three percent responded yes, and the remaining thirteen percent responded uncertain.

The survey listed thirty abilities and attributes, organized in six categories, that are essential for new lawyers. The survey asked respondents if each needed more emphasis, less emphasis, or about the same emphasis as now occurs in law school. Two-thirds (more than 200) of the respondents ranked six skills as needing more emphasis in law school:

  • Conveying Complex Information Clearly
  • Listening Effectively
  • Expressing Cogent Conclusions
  • Managing Projects Efficiently
  • Understanding Financial Documents
  • Posing Practical Solutions

More than half of the remaining skills also were rated as in need of more emphasis by 150-198 respondents. Survey respondents commented on the importance of these skills, listed below:

  • It does not matter if you’re the most intelligent lawyer in the world if you can’t effectively communicate your thoughts and conclusions.
  • It all starts with listening, we found, from taking in one’s first assignment to developing business opportunities later in one’s career. One’s eagerness to impress many times gets in the way of truly understanding the needs, concerns, or issues that the assigning lawyer is trying to convey and the working relationship as a result may [get off]on the wrong foot from the start.
  • Beginning attorneys tend to be good at research and writing, but often are afraid or unable to [convey]cogent conclusions [from]conflicting information, which is usually the most significant desire of clients when engaging legal advice.
  • It doesn’t matter what area of law, they all require a basic understanding of financial documents.
  • New lawyers need training in how to write letters and emails, not just legal briefs…in how to write clearly and precisely, without legal jargon, and with the appropriate audience in mind. Careful editing with attention to every detail in a document should be emphasized, as well.

The ABA Legal Career Central has the full story. The Penn Law Center on Professionalism strives to offer programming that will allow students to provide complete and sophisticated professional services to their clients.