Law schools have traditionally focused on teaching students to think like lawyers, concentrating on theory, reasoning, and analysis, instead of practical skills. This emphasis has likely resulted in the fact that many (if not most) new lawyers are unprepared to practice law. In a LexisNexis survey of 300 hiring partners and senior associates tasked with supervising new attorneys, 95% responded that recent law school graduates lack the practical skills to do their job. Lacking this foundation significantly decreases the value new attorneys bring to their firms and clients (not to mention makes the first few years of practicing law unpleasant). While many law school graduates do not yet possess the skills to represent clients, they are tasked to do just that.
So what are the important practical skills that new litigators lack? One particular pain point, noted across firms big and small, is that new litigators do not have an understanding of how a litigation matter “actually happens in real life.” An important component of being an effective attorney is strategizing to resolve clients’ problems. But a novice litigator with minimal exposure to the lifecycle of a lawsuit is not well-positioned to address the myriad of issues and problems that arise in the various phases of litigation, which often becomes apparent through drafting that misses the mark. This is consistent with the findings of the LexisNexis survey, which showed that new litigators lack experience in the “highly important” areas of drafting pleadings, substantive motions (including dispositive motions and motions to compel), written discovery requests, and trial briefs, among other things.
Law schools are not preparing new litigators to be aware of the problems they are likely to face, nor are they arming them with skills to help solve these problems. And the demands of private law practice make it important to obtain these skills as quickly as possible. To address this issue, firms are spending an average of $19,000 per new associate in training, much of which is on in-house presentations, focusing on advanced legal research skills, as well as drafting important pleadings, motions, and discovery documents. A better way to train may be learning by doing and by tapping into existing resources, such as encouraging law students to participate in clinical programs and judicial internships during law school, or take on pro bono matters upon bar admission. Legal technology tools can also be a low-cost and effective way for novice attorneys to be guided through the life cycle of a lawsuit, providing standards and guidelines along the way. Additionally, knowledge management tools that strategically organize case documents by topic or subject matter can be used for training purposes, and can provide new attorneys with quick access to firm precedents to use as a starting point. The most significant progress and professional development will, of course, come from real lawyering.
Learn how Vector Legal Method can help your firm with the training and on-boarding of new associates.