June 30, 2009
Another Update on Lawyer Skills Training
Posted by Gordon Smith

My colleague, Mary Hoagland, pointed me to the "Roundtable on the Future of Lawyer Hiring, Development, and Advancement," sponsored by the National Association for Law Placement, Inc., where 19 "industry leaders" did the following, among other things:

  • Expressed great interest in development of an apprenticeship model of lawyer training;

A closer look at the transcripts reveals that this idea was floated by Glom friend and legal industry guru, Bill Henderson:

Bill Henderson, a professor at the University of Indiana Maurer School of Law, raised more fundamental questions about the current large law firm recruiting model. “Law firms have essentially been on autopilot for … several decades, maybe half a century, in terms of where they recruit,” he noted. Henderson proposed an apprenticeship model where “you find people that really want to grow in your model.” The concept of an apprenticeship model continued to be a topic of discussion throughout the Roundtable’s exploration of recruiting, hiring, and professional development.

The group also "[c]oncluded that increased competition will create new demands for lawyer training." Training by whom? Based on the transcripts, the group was of two minds about this. We get the obligatory reference to new associates "hitting the ground running," but lots more talk about the need for firms to invest in training. Like this:

“What you have is a situation where you have roughly the same number of lawyers going after less work,” commented Wally Martinez. “So how do you win that competition? You win that competition by, at every level of your organization, having the best team on the field, the best trained team, the most practical team. So I think that what law firms will need to do during this downturn is focus even more intensely on associate training and development, but it has to be practical training. And I happen to think that the biggest change that we’ll see is that what was driving a lot of … the work … around professional development and associate training was associate retention concerns. … I think what training and development will be driven by now … is client retention concerns.”

And we circle back to apprenticeship:

Kellye Walker, Senior VP and General Counsel for Diageo North America, noted, “… the press is saying that clients don’t want to pay for brand new associates. That’s not necessarily true. Clients want to pay commensurate with the value that they’re seeing. And that’s a very different concept … the apprenticeship model actually helps to bring that to fruition.”

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Comments (1)

1. Posted by Anonymous on July 1, 2009 @ 11:00 | Permalink

In reference to your first post on this matter, I think it would be foolhardy to eliminate legal writing programs altogether. After two years of law school, I find that the only class remotely prepared me for work in a firm was my legal writing class.

It seems to me that law schools in general churn out over-theoried and pratical experience-starved students year after year, ill-prepared to face the practice of law. The lack of hands-on experience is astounding. Learning policy in a vacuum is all well and good, I suppose and not inherently harmful, but does little to promote an actual understanding and acuity at legal practice.

Elements of an apprenticeship are appealing, but I wonder how you would have that implemented. Classroom environments, with sometimes in excess of ninety students, makes individual learning a challenge. Organizing collaboration ultimately breaks down.

Perhaps law school should be stuctured more like medical, with both in class lectures coupled with practicuums. I think we should encourage more clinics, more opportunities to see attorneys and judges at work. More opportunities for legal writing are also essential, as many students will go into their first jobs having only written law review type pieces.

Emphasis on increased classroom instruction will not alone solve the problems that you note.

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