June 11, 2009
The Horse’s Mouth
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

So what do the real lawyers think about the job we in the academy are doing training the corporate lawyers of tomorrow? The news from the front is generally good, at least according to yesterday morning’s panel, Perspectives from Practice. I had to duck out of the session early, but here are a few highlights:

James D.C. Barrall wants us to teach students how to draft a memo, not a law review article. He thinks we do a good job teaching students how to think and analyze. One improvement would be to teach students how to write better. [Blogger note: this is one of my bugaboos. Writing skills are crucial, but law school isn’t really set up to teach them. Apparently high schools and colleges are falling down on the job.] He also emphasized communication skills, and how important understanding and even empathizing with your client is. [Blogger note: asking law school professors to teach “soft” style interpersonal skills might appear to some like asking the blind leading the blind].

Andrew Petillon suggested three new areas for course offerings: Regulation of Investment Advisors or Companies (1940 Act); Regulation of Broker-Dealers; and Securities Enforcement and Litigation. [Blogger note: we do teach that last one at Georgia.] Several speakers stressed the importance of taking Securities Regulation. [Blogger note: I cannot echo this enough. My students know that I am adamant on this point. My spiel goes like this: “you can’t learn everything in law school, but you should take classes that it would be difficult to pick up on the fly. Securities Regulation is just such a class.”]

Finally, I have to give a shout-out to Michael A. Woronoff, who I know is a Glom reader. A contrarian, he advised law schools to stick with their comparative advantage—teaching doctrinal classes—and leave the skills training to law firms. [Blogger note: I had to duck out in the middle of Michael’s talk, but I’ll raise a counterpoint here: these days it’s all too clear that many students will not go the Big Law route and thus will never experience all that great training. Indeed, most Georgia students start out at small to midsize firms, if they go the law firm route at all.] As Michael acknowledged, the trend is the reverse, introducing more skills training into legal education. Indeed, that was the subject of my panel: Integrating Transactional Law in the Traditional Courses.

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Comments (3)

1. Posted by MAW on June 11, 2009 @ 20:13 | Permalink

Usha,

Thanks for the shout-out. Sorry you had to duck out early.

As Frank Gevurtz noted, I may have been exaggerating a little. I actually don’t think ALL skills training should be left to law firms. For example, like you, I think law schools should do a better job at teaching drafting. And of course I do teach a skills course myself.

So, although it still may be contrarian, I was just making the opportunity cost point Gordon made in a post about a week ago (which I’ve now quoted 3 times--boy he’s good):

“More this and more that inevitably means less of something else. . . . So this is what I want to know: . . . if you want more . . . skills training, what are you going to sacrifice to get [it]?”

My concern with some of the proposals out now is that they require sacrificing too much, when law schools still teach too little substantive law that the transactional lawyer needs to know. (Even those lawyers who go to small or mid-size firms).

I think you agree with me when you say, “you can’t learn everything in law school, but you should take classes that it would be difficult to pick up on the fly. Securities Regulation is just such a class.” I just would add accounting, entity tax, administrative law and a few others.

And everyone I talked to at the conference said a 4 credit course just isn’t enough time to teach BA. Yet at over 2/3 of the schools, BA is a 3-4 credit class. If you stuff skills training in there, what are you going to give up?

Anyway, if you want to see the ending you missed (although you won’t be able to hear how I sang it, which was truly stunning), I’ll be posting my remarks on SSRN in a few days.

By the way, I loved your panel and agreed with almost everything everyone said.

MAW


2. Posted by MAW on June 12, 2009 @ 8:49 | Permalink

Sorry, one more point I didn't make in that last comment.

When you say "many students will not go the Big Law route and thus will never experience all that great training. Indeed, most Georgia students start out at small to midsize firms, if they go the law firm route at all." I think you do a disservice to small and midsize firms.

As I pointed out in my remarks, some skills can really only be learned through modeling. In that case, in my experience, the smaller the environment the better. That's why I have always chosen to work in smaller offices of larger firms.

MAW


3. Posted by Jake on June 12, 2009 @ 19:15 | Permalink

Perhaps Usha did not mean to suggest that only Big Law offers great training. For fledgling lawyers, opportunities abound in government service. Few thrills compare to serving the public while handing some Big Law firm its head in the courtroom.

On a more general note, as I've commented before, law schools definitely must turn out graduates who can write better. Allocating blame to high schools and colleges, however well deserved, is no answer to the dilemma.

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