For many attorneys practicing at a law firm can be boiled down to some fundamental tasks: drafting documents, doing some form of legal research, business development, or administration. That’s all well and good, but where does a young attorney hone these skills? One would think that the answer to that is obvious: in law school. However, in most cases, that actually isn’t true. Let’s look at these activities in more detail and see just what is involved in being a practicing attorney.
No matter which practice area of law you go into; if you practice law, you’re going to have to draft documents at one point or another—and a lot of them. Now, where do you learn to draft these documents? While law schools often offer classes such as “Civil Litigation Drafting” and “Commercial Transaction Drafting,” these classes are often optional. That said, law students who opt to take these classes will find themselves at an advantage when they hit the job market.
Every law school teaches its first-year students some form of legal research skills. Nevertheless, students often still leave law school lacking the requisite research skills to succeed in their roles as lawyers. Conducting legal research is not an easy skill to master, and when done effectively can have a genuine effect on the outcome of a matter, yet why is it handled in a cursory way during the first year of law school. In theory, that year is the furthest a law student will be from full-time employment, when they will need the skills most. Law schools should ensure that further legal research training is available; and law students should aim to take some kind of refresher or advanced legal research in their third year, if one is available.
In the great, lucrative locomotive that is the legal services industry, rainmakers are the engine that drives the train forward. It is commonly known that those who bring business into their law firms often rise through the ranks significantly faster than those that merely churn through billable hours. While much of being a rainmaker is attributable to interpersonal skills and is hard to quantify, there are aspects of it that can certainly be trained in law school. Generally, for every matter a lawyer in a firm is billing on, there is a client on the other end paying those bills, and too often attorneys forget that and focus merely on the work involved. Whether it be seminars focused on developing empathy and listening actively, being responsive to client requests, or general training in dealing with difficult personalities, there are certainly ways that law school can teach students to attract and retain clients. Naturally, these are skills that firms value highly in their attorneys, as the attraction of clients brings more revenue to the firm. Law firms would surely welcome associates that come out of law school with the interpersonal and networking skills required to attract new business.
Not every minute spent as a practicing attorney is going to be focused on actual legal practice. A lot of time is spent managing the minutiae that arise throughout one’s day, and that is where software like ZERØ can be of critical assistance. By automating processes like email management and mobile email time capture so as to minimize the amount of time spent on them, applications like ZERØ ensure that lawyers can spend less time managing emails and more time on practicing law. Although these programs may be relatively easy to use once trained, there can still be a learning curve. As with all things that take learning, training is necessary to master how to use legal technology to the fullest extent possible. Law school classrooms that make this type of training readily available will provide a great deal of value to graduating students hitting the job market.
The average law school education does a great job of teaching students the law required to pass the bar and gain their license to practice law, but it can leave much to be desired in terms of “practical lawyering.” Law students should also keep in mind the skills that they will need as future lawyers beyond their required coursework. In the absence of learning these necessary skills, students may become frustrated, and law firms will be dissatisfied with the need to train their new lawyers in these critical areas from the ground up. Providing and mandating practically oriented legal coursework can provide law schools with a competitive advantage and help their students succeed in even the worst of job markets.