Training Lawyers: Whose Job Is It?
I was fortunate enough to attend the recent Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor’s Forum, “The Future of the Profession: A Conversation with the Law School Deans.” It was a great event and kudos to YLD past chair Brian Chacker and immediate past chair Abbie DuFrayne for putting together what was a very interesting program.
Law schools everywhere have faced a barrage of challenges with the ever-changing economic climate (read: worst recession since the Great Depression) and they have been called to task on issues regarding employment of recent grads, curriculum, faculty, tuition, and a whole host of other topics.
At this forum the panel were asked a variety of questions, most of which centered around what their respective schools were doing to change the curriculum to make sure that graduates were coming out of law school with more practical experience. The refrain from employers seems to be, “We want our new hires to hit the ground running, and to be better trained from the start.”
Each panelist had a litany of examples as to how their school was reacting to this demand. We heard about co-op programs, capstone courses, extended writing requirements, externships, career strategy initiatives, mentorship, strategic planning and the list goes on. I was glad to hear of all these changes, and commend each school for taking the necessary steps to re-think the entire law school experience.
However, I think another important piece of the puzzle is asking employers how they are changing their own business models to better train their new hires, and to ensure that each attorney at their firm and/or agency is maximizing their time in the office.
In an ideal world, any new hire in any profession would start on their first day and be ready to go, but that simply is not the reality. There is plenty to learn at the start of a new job and each office has their own procedures and ways of getting things done that one must become acquainted with. There is no amount of practical experience that a law school can offer that will enable a graduate to start a new job without still needing guidance, mentorship, and other orientation with a new office. Additionally, each jurisdiction has their own set of local practices and procedures. For example, filing a complaint in Philadelphia is done electronically now, but that is not the case in surrounding counties.
So the question becomes: how can a law school prepare their students for all of these differences? They can’t. Training of a lawyer must extend beyond law school and continue to be a vital part of the profession. Will it initially take away from your bottom line? Yes, because new hires are not as efficient as those associates who have numerous years of experience. However, if you take the time to appropriately train a new employee, you will more than make up for that initial decrease because this lawyer will now have a comprehensive understanding of what is expected of them.
It was clear at this forum that law schools are really trying to strike the right balance between time spent in a classroom and practical experience. But the issue is larger than the law schools, and must be addressed by the profession as a whole. We are changing the way we do business and that’s true in every firm, agency, and government office.
So my question to all of our loyal readers is what has your office done to modify your training program? If you don’t have a training program, is one in the works?