Going to law school is a huge challenge. It requires perseverance, patience, developing the right study habits as well as analytical and reasoning skills. Then after completing the degree, one has to take the bar exams and pass it in order to practice the profession. Unfortunately, not all law graduates pass the bar on first take hence, the need to review once more and retake the exam.
In the U.S., pursuing law school after completing an undergraduate degree typically takes three years to complete for a full-time student. Any bachelor’s degree is accepted in a law program although those who have a background in criminal justice, history, political science or philosophy are at an advantage.
Legal education is expensive and it’s not always that graduates can immediately find appropriate employment after graduating and passing the bar exam. Law schools are also being criticized today for their failure to respond to the demand for lawyers and for using the “sales practice” approach to keep up with the stiff competition for students.
The latest development is the adoption of a resolution by the American Bar Association (ABA) calling on law schools to implement curriculum programs that will develop practice-ready lawyers. This is to ensure that graduates are equipped with the right skills to help them succeed in the early stages of their law practice. New lawyers are expected to provide more competent professional legal services sooner than later whether they work for law firms or organizations or represent clients in their own capacity.
Steve Diaco, for his part, acknowledges this new approach saying he understands that “Right now, it’s very difficult for a graduating law student heck, even an established lawyer, to find work in the marketplace. And I can see the merit to the practice-ready perspective: it makes students more marketable right out of the gate, and could help them position themselves for success in the job market right out of the gate.”
Practice-Ready vs. Traditional Law School
The debate today is whether to maintain the traditional law program or implement a practice-ready program to meet the market demand for lawyers.
A regular law program in the U.S. normally offers the basic courses in the first year although not all ABA-approved law schools offer them. Pursuing different fields of study is also allowed in the first law year.
Other courses covered are on ethics, research and developing writing skills through a written project. Most courses focus on honing a student’s analytical skills including analyzing legal problems, reading cases, distilling facts and applying the law to facts. Students are required to master legal knowledge covering laws all across the U.S. and not just on specific states.
Traditional law schools usually put emphasis on providing legal knowledge and less on developing practical skills. The burden of training law students and graduates then fell on the law firms, government law offices and senior attorneys in local communities. But this is not always achieved as senior lawyers lack the time to teach new graduates on preparing documents such as complaints and contracts, interviewing a client and other basic legal work.
However, with the call to produce more practice-ready graduates, law schools are re-evaluating their programs. A recent ABA survey showed that 67 percent of law schools have modified their course offerings to adapt to the job market for lawyers and are trying to incorporate more clinics, simulations and internships, according to the National Law Journal. This is proof that legal education providers now have a renewed commitment to evaluate and modify their curricula when necessary to be able produce the so-called practice-ready graduates.
Law professors Alfred S. Konefsky of the University at Buffalo and Barry Sullivan of Loyola University Chicago, in their commentary published on Chronicle.com, pointed out that this approach suggests a need for balance in the legal education wherein schools provide more intensive skills training, clinical experiences and capstone courses to students.
They added that successful careers begin with competent practice in the early years, but preparation for the long haul is also essential. At the very least that means acquiring an array of skills beyond those usually mentioned in connection with practice-readiness The real task of legal education must be to prepare students, as best we can, for a lifetime of successful, ethical, and personally rewarding practice.
Steve Diaco agrees with this saying “If you’re ready to walk into a courtroom or handle a client on day-one, you’re more valuable to a firm. That said, I really don’t think that practice-ready should be the only goal of law school. I think that takes a very utilitarian, very crass view of what law practice is.”
I’m sure there are many lawyers who are attracted to this field for the money it can promise a specific type of lawyer, but I’m also sure there are just as many students who are attracted to the ideals of justice, fairness and discourse. All I’m saying is this: law school teaches you how to think, openly and deeply, about everything. It’s not a quantifiable skill, but I truly feel it is important for anyone’s development, Diaco added.
Finally, former New York State Bar President Vincent Doyle III believes that producing practice-ready lawyers should not end in laws schools because employers as well as providers of continued legal education are responsible for training attorneys to become better practitioners.