Changes in the legal marketplace have caused law schools, law firms, bar associations and governmental regulators to reconsider all aspects of legal education. For decades, law schools utilized the Socratic Method to teach law students to “think like a lawyer.” Thereafter, these newly admitted attorneys would be scooped up by law firms who would train and mold them into well-paid and productive attorneys.
But then the world changed. Small law firms stopped hiring while BigLaw began hiring fewer lawyers and often, only after they had a few years of experience. Moreover, many new lawyers are leaving law school saddled with crushing debt and faced with dismal employment prospects. They are then resorting to hanging out their own shingle with no mentor, partner or compass to guide them.
The Connecticut Bar Association created a Task Force on the Future of Legal Education and Standards of Admission comprised of four law school deans; law school professors with oversight of their schools’ clinical programs; bar leaders (including past and future presidents of the CBA); leaders of the Young Lawyers Section of the CBA; a law student, members of the judiciary, members of the Bar Examining Committee; a member of the Rules Committee; Statewide Bar Counsel; practicing attorneys who teach at law schools; corporate counsel; as well as experienced attorneys in large, medium and small practices with hiring responsibilities. During the course of its meetings the task force narrowed and defined its mission as follows: “To facilitate a collaborative and cooperative effort between law schools, lawyers, bar associations and governmental regulators to better educate and prepare competent new lawyers”.
Contrary to the prevailing view that the education of lawyers is stuck in the past, the task force concluded that law schools, law firms, bar associations and governmental regulators are anticipating and reacting to changes in the legal profession. In fact, the opportunities for law students to gain experiential and practical skills have never been broader, allowing them to be “practice readier” for their legal careers upon graduation.
While such changes which have already occurred are necessary and welcome, more can and should be done. It is the recommendation of this task force that those same stake holders consider and adopt the following innovations to the education, testing, nurturing, mentoring, training and employing of law students and attorneys.
Internships And Mentoring
Law firms should consider employing newly admitted lawyers as paid interns without the promise or guarantee of permanent employment and the use of law student externs should be expanded whereby the student receives credit for the experience. The use of mentors, already in place through the CBA Standing Committee on Professionalism, should be encouraged and expanded. Connecticut firms, both large and small, can further contribute to the professional development of new lawyers who are not their employees by working with bar association programs to train new lawyers, participating in presenting these training sessions for new lawyers. Finally, experienced practitioners should partner with academic professors to co-teach or guest lecture on an as needed basis and serve on law school advisory boards to convey the needs of legal employers and to identify skill gaps in recent graduates.
Consistent with the anticipated American Bar Association requirement for law school accreditation, the Bar Examining Committee should require the same six hours of experiential education or the equivalent in practical experience in order to sit for the bar exam. It was recognized that as law schools engage in further experiential or practical experience education, it should be tested in a meaningful way in the bar examination.
The Rules Committee should consider modifying the requirement of supervision for student practice. Recognizing that much legal work is already being performed by individuals with credentials less than fully licensed attorneys (known as the nurse practitioner model) the concept should be expanded so that non-lawyers are permitted to offer some basic legal services to the public. The Judicial Branch should continue to study and ultimately establish a Modest/Moderate Means Legal Services program whereby lawyers would volunteer to offer their services to qualifying individuals at reduced fees. Finally, all lawyers should be required to attend 12 hours of some form of Continuing Legal Education each year with at least two hours in legal ethics.
The organized bar is perhaps the only entity under whose umbrella all of these initiatives can come together. The CBA could create a solo and small firm resource center which would provide support for these lawyers including access to practice aids, legal research, client information materials as well as mentors. The CBA should continue to make available practice oriented nuts-and-bolts trainings in a variety of fields to educate newly admitted lawyers in basic areas of law such as simple divorce, landlord tenant, bankruptcy, real estate, criminal procedure and foreclosure defense as well as in ethics, advertising, law office management and client’s funds accounts.
The law schools are to be commended for recognizing and adjusting to dramatic and unprecedented changes within a legal profession unrecognizable just a few years ago but law schools must continue to proactively adapt to an ever-changing profession. As changes in regulation, technology, energy, health care and population demographics create new demands for legal services, opportunities are created for newly admitted attorneys who are properly trained and educated to take advantage of them. While there are still too many new lawyers chasing an ever shrinking supply of jobs, there is also a huge unmet demand for legal services among middle-class persons, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “justice gap.”
The task force strongly recommends the incorporation of more experiential learning to that which is already ongoing. Law schools must coordinate curriculum to enhance the clinical experience, including the cross-migration of clinics within the law school. There ought to be changes to the student practice rule which would allow law students, with appropriate supervision, to engage with under-served litigants as well as work in corporations, with legal services providers and for not-for-profit entities.
Under proper supervision, these student interns can render legal services to the underserved litigants in the judicial process. Finally, students should be engaged in the technology required for the practice of law which they desire and receive substantive expertise in emerging areas of the law.
It is the hope of this task force that its work will be as beneficial to the legal profession as it has already been to its individual members and the institutions which they represent. It is the consensus of the task force that the recommendations contained herein will serve to better educate and prepare competent new lawyers. We very much hope that the law schools, law firms, governmental regulators and the Connecticut Bar Association accept and implement these recommendations. The entire report can be found at www.Ctbar.org
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shluger is the chairman of the Connecticut Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education and Standards of Admission.