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For the first time in 16 years, New Jersey’s 39-year-old mandatory skills and methods program will undergo a comprehensive reassessment. The state Supreme Court has appointed an Ad Hoc Committee on Skills and Methods to look at whether changes are needed in the program that prepares new attorneys for practice. Chaired by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Jack Sabatino, the 32-member committee will look at: � The program’s strengths and weaknesses; � Possible improvements, including “course tracks” focused on specific areas; � The required participation of lawyers who have practiced in other jurisdictions; � The development of law-management skills for new lawyers practicing alone or in small firms; � Use of modern technology; and � Continued use of a single provider. One committee member, Appellate Division Judge Howard Kestin, says no single concern sparked the assessment. “Everything is open to be looked into,” says Kestin, who describes the panel’s mission as “a monumental task.” The ad hoc committee has met twice and has broken into four subcommittees, focused on the needs of experienced lawyers, the needs of new lawyers, ethics and technology. The committee also will look at programs in other states, many of which have “bridge the gap” programs to ease the transition from school to practice. New Jersey is one of the few states in which entry-level skills courses are mandatory. Neither New York nor Pennsylvania has a similar requirement, though both, unlike New Jersey, have mandatory continuing legal education. GENESIS FROM CLERKSHIPS Skills and methods instruction was introduced in 1964 as a substitute for the old requirement of a nine-month clerkship under the guidance of a preceptor, who was a judge or a lawyer admitted at least five years. Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont also had a clerkship requirement, but New Jersey’s nine-month clerkship was the longest. Kestin, who graduated from Rutgers Law School-Newark in 1962 and was one of the last group of lawyers to meet the clerkship requirement, recalls it as akin to indentured servitude, with would-be lawyers working like young associates, usually during the summers, at a going rate of $15 a week. Clerks recorded each day’s activities in a diary to be reviewed at least three times during the clerkship by the county committee on character and fitness. The problem was that, despite the diary review, clerkships were “essentially unmonitored,” resulting in a non-uniform learning experience, Kestin says. A Jan. 16, 1964, Law Journal editorial called the newly introduced skills and methods option “a welcome innovation,” noting “many good prospective lawyers have shunned New Jersey in recent years because of the stringent clerkship requirement.” About a year after the introduction of skills and methods, the clerkship was abolished. The 1964 course was an intensive rubric that spent three weeks on practice and procedure, two weeks each on commercial law, trusts and real property, and one week each on criminal law and procedure, matrimonial law, and law office procedure and ethics. The initial program doubled as a bar review course. Then as now, the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education provided the instruction, which cost $200 at the time. The course has been through several metamorphoses since then. Between 1976 and 1987, there were eight required courses, though attendance at lectures was not required so long as the student satisfactorily completed the practice exercises for each subject. Starting in 1987, lectures became mandatory; the program became a post-admission requirement, rather than a prerequisite for admission; and the courses were separated into a first-year core component, with mandatory exercises, and a second- and third-year continuing education component. Once the classes became mandatory, videotaped sessions came into wide use, says Kestin. Today, New Jersey lawyers must take nine courses during their first three years of admission. First-year skills and methods includes roughly 40 hours of instruction in five subjects: real estate law, family law, wills and probate, professional responsibility and either civil procedure or criminal procedure. The other procedure course is taken the second year, along with administrative law. Third-year lawyers choose two electives. Attendees receive a set of books covering various subject areas. “Without a doubt the books are valuable as a resource,” says McCarter & English associate Phillip Kaczor, who recently completed the first-year course. ‘NOT COMMON SENSE’ The courses’ relevance to modern practice will be a high priority for the panel. Since the last review in 1987, the legal profession has undergone a marked increase in specialization. “The structure of skills and methods courses needs to take that into account,” Kestin says. Recent participants in the course generally find it to be a hollow rite of passage for anyone but the general practitioner. “My feeling is that it’s basically another paying-your-dues sort of thing,” says Kaczor, an insurance litigator. He says the mandatory CLE program in New York, where he is also admitted, is more valuable, since it can be satisfied by approved programs in a lawyer’s firm. Tracey Denton, an associate with Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler, was so bothered by the course’s irrelevancy to her bankruptcy practice that she circulated a petition, “ICLE Is Not Common Sense,” among other attendees. All those with whom she spoke shared her concerns but were afraid to sign before they received credit for the course, she says. On the other hand, Jake Santos, a 1997 law graduate, found the course helpful to his two-lawyer Mount Olive practice, which includes trusts and estates work. State Bar President Karol Corbin Walker says she supports anything that improves the quality of legal education but says it is too early to discuss specific changes. One enhancement she would welcome is Web-based CLE, which would make life a lot easier for lawyers situated far away from course venues. Other members of the committee are vice chairman Lee Hymerling, the former chairman of the Disciplinary Review Board; Appellate Division Judge Steven Lefelt; Superior Court Judges Ann Bartlett, Diane Cohen, Ronald Freeman, Kyran O’Connor and David Rand; former Seton Hall Law School Dean Ronald Riccio; Rutgers-Newark Law School Associate Dean Ronald Chen; Legal Services of New Jersey director Melville Miller Jr.; Darryl Simpkins, chairman of the Board of Bar Examiners; and Warren Faulk, chairman of the Board on Attorney Certification.

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