After an exhaustive look at the dismal state of employment for young lawyers in New York, a New York City Bar task force has recommended additional avenues of training and support for new graduates, a shift in focus from large law jobs to providing services to the middle class, and continued experimentation with law school curricula and changes to the bar exam (see related article).
In addition, the New York City Bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession announced the launch of several pilot projects designed to address gaps in training and education.
Carey Dunne, president of the city bar and a partner at Davis, Polk & Wardwell who convened the task force said the city bar hopes these are “longterm projects that will stick.”
More law school graduates, unable to find legal employment, are forming solo and small firm practices where training of practical skills is not available, the task force said.
Dunne said new graduates need to continue education and apprenticeship “even after they step out of law school and into the profession,” especially those who aren’t hired in large firms and public service agencies. “In that respect, many new lawyers are not getting that,” he said.
The report released Wednesday also laid out shortcomings in legal education, such as a failure to teach lawyering skills, and recommended areas where schools could better prepare students for their professional life.
But while there is great interest in reforming law school education, a parallel emphasis has emerged on assimilating underemployed law graduates, said James Moliterno, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law who teaches legal ethics and writes frequently on the legal profession.
Bar groups and law schools are “focusing more and more attention on this group of underemployed,” he said.
To that end, the New Lawyer Institute, a city bar initiative, is designed as a year-long program offering law graduates practical skills training, career support and mentoring.
Beginning with the class of 2014, the institute will be available to graduates who do not have access to an organized curriculum of professional development through their employers, including lawyers in small firms and solo practitioners, said task force chair Mark Morril, an arbitrator and mediator, in an interview.
The training programs will be more tailored to new lawyers than traditional CLE programs, such as legal writing, negotiation tactics, alternative dispute resolution and understanding of financial statements. Practice area courses could include “Divorce Law 101,” and seminars on estate planning and landlord-tenant law, the city bar report said.
The institute will also provide guidance on seeking a job, such as pointers on preparing a resume, handling a job interview and managing a search, and it will offer tips on practice management and provide mentoring.
To assist lawyers in small law firm practice, the institute will cover the use of business forms, developing a filing system, obtaining insurance and cloud computing.
“We’re recognizing the reality that many law graduates are going solo or to small firms and many are doing it with no support,” Morril said. The report said the number of new lawyers practicing solo or in very small firms has doubled since 2007.
The cost of enrollment has not yet been determined, said Morril. “We also anticipate some employers and law schools to sponsor their lawyers for this program,” he said.
Law Firm for Middle Class
Although the recession forced many lawyers out of their jobs and firms have cut back on hiring, the task force said “the perceived oversupply of lawyers is largely illusory.”
The report said people with moderate means often do not pay for legal help because of limited resources, questions about value and quality, fear of runaway costs and difficulty finding a good lawyer.
“This sector of our society is, by definition, not wealthy, but its members can pay something for legal advice and, we believe they would in the right circumstances,” the report said.
To this end, the city bar said, it will start a pilot project to test a business model providing services to people with too many resources to qualify for government assistance but who need legal advice.
Morril said there are many people in this category. For instance, 99 percent of tenants in the New York City Housing Court are not represented by counsel.
This pilot will differ from brick-and-mortar law firms serving the middle class, Morril said, because it will serve many more people using innovative technology with little infrastructure.
Morril said the hope is, “if you develop the model, a lot more new lawyers could come into the field and efficiently serve the population of people with moderate means.”
The law firm pilot, likely to launch next year, would employ primarily new lawyers who will receive training and supervision in such areas as family law, estate planning, contract drafting, disputes and small business advice, the city bar said.
“We believe this is the first such program that is not tethered to the economics or platform of a particular law school, which is important to ensuring a fully objective test,” the report said.
If successful, the firm will compensate its lawyers and cover its own overhead, Morril said. The goal is to create a model that can be replicated, he said.
“It’s not intended to be a revenue vehicle for the city bar. It is intended to be a standalone business model that will hopefully be successful in the way any law firm is,” he said.
The pilot’s launch will depend on attracting “significant start-up funding,” Morril said.
Dunne said that once it is up and running, he hopes the firm can accommodate 10 to 12 new attorneys at any one time.
‘Bridge to Practice’
Meanwhile, the city bar task force said it has launched partnerships with BNY Mellon, Con Edison, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley to support a “bridge-to-practice” pilot project where the companies make a two-year commitment to work with students from New York City law schools. The students will work in the legal departments during their third year and possibly the year after graduation.
“We’re insisting these are going to be real jobs that come from real needs,” Dunne said, noting companies have identified needs in compliance, labor and environmental projects. “It’s got to be a real need by the employer. This is not just a charity.”
The bridge program will launch next year with the goal of expanding over time with more students and more employers.
Bridge-to-practice programs would be best served, the task force said, if there were “greater clarity and uniformity” in rules for law students representing clients.
The task force urged the Appellate Division departments to adopt “a more consistent set of rules” that would allow law students participating in clinics, externships and bridge-to-practice programs to represents clients under the supervision of admitted attorneys.
Law School Proposals
The task force also called for continual experimentation with law school curricula, but took the position that while the third year is not optimally used, “the calls to shorten law school, primarily as a way to reduce its cost, are misguided.”
“We believe that the need for better trained lawyers counsels against spending less time in law school,” said the report, dismissing proposals to eliminate the third year.
The report recommended that schools test a simulated problem-solving course or one clinical program for every law student; specialization of courses or majors; partnership with legal employers; and a post-graduation training for new lawyers who aren’t receiving it on the job.
To encourage innovation in legal training, the task force recommended less focus on U.S. News & World Report rankings. It recommended reform of ABA law school standards to allow for the experimentation of pilot projects and greater flexibility; reform of bar exams to permit greater mobility and focus on certain skills; and a reexamination of restrictions on nonlawyer investment in law firms.
A city bar group will report within a year on potential changes to the bar exam.
The 37-member task force includes deans of New York law schools, practitioners in large and small firms, solo practitioners, general counsel of large corporations, district attorneys of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the heads of legal aid groups.
The city bar said a new group, the City Bar Council on the Profession, is charged with implementing the task force’s proposals.