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The prevailing wisdom among legal educators is that law schools should provide more practical skills and “real world” training, to better prepare students to practice law. Research by the National Association for Law Placement validates that line of thought. NALP surveyed 930 law firm associates regarding how much so-called experiential learning — clinics, externships and other hands-on courses — they received during law school and how effective those courses were. The results showed that many students skipped clinics or externships, but most of those who do participate considered the experience valuable. The survey indicated that clinics and externships are gaining in popularity, as newer associates reported higher rates of participation in those courses than did earlier associate classes. “The data from this study suggest that some, if not all, of these ‘hands-on’ or simulated learning opportunities, whether required or optional, are indeed instrumental in preparing new associates for the demands of the practice of law,” the NALP report reads. Of the associates surveyed, 30 percent said they had participated in at least one clinic, and 63 percent of them said that experience was “very helpful.” Among those students who had taken a clinic, 35 percent enrolled in litigation clinics, 24 percent transactional clinics and 28 percent regulatory or lobbying clinics. Regarding the clinics’ popularity, 27 percent of associates with three or more years of experience reported that they took a clinic in law school. By contrast, 36 percent of associates with just one year in practice said they took a clinic. Externships and field placements proved even more popular, with 36 percent of the respondents reporting that they had participated, and 60 percent of those rating the experience as “very useful.” Practical skills courses proved most popular among the survey respondents. Slightly more than 70 percent said they had taken at least one of these classes, and 40 percent reported taking three or more. Trial advocacy was the most popular practical skills class, followed by negotiation and pre-trial litigation. As with clinics, the popularity of these courses appeared to be have grown over time. However, practical skills courses had lower ratings when it came to usefulness. Only 36 percent reported that these courses were “very useful.” NALP found that 42 percent of respondents had done pro bono work in law school, either voluntarily or to meet a requirement. However, pro bono work had the lowest rating among associates in term of how useful that experience was in preparing them to practice. Just 17 percent said it was “very useful.”

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