The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.
B. B. King
The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.
B. B. King
It is becoming very clear that women are an unstoppable force, which will be changing the face of business in America and in the world in the next several decades. The changes are already taking place and have caught the attention of commenters worldwide, including the participants and attendees at the most recent conferences of the prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. As noted at those events, the number of women world leaders and women business entrepreneurs is on the rise, and women, from large corporate C-Suite members in the developed world to small business owners in the far corners of Africa, are gaining attention. There is still a very long way to go for parity, but the advance of women on the world stage is palpable.
So, it will be no surprise to you that there is an energetic ongoing effort to compile data about women in the workplace. For one example, check out these recent figures from Anne Loehr, an expert in developing authentic and transformational leadership: http://www.anneloehr.com/statistics-to-kickstart-the-rise-of-women-in-the-workforce/.
These figures generally support what many of us in the law profession have been talking about for years. For instance, nearly fifty per cent of the law school graduates are women, and yet fewer than 20 per cent of the partners in law firms across the nation are women and there are only five female managing partners of the group of large law firms that are commonly referred to as “Big Law.” Women also are very poorly represented on the management and policy committees in law firms. However, this disparity is getting a lot of attention through projects like Best Friends at the Bar and programs sponsored by law organizations, and there is hope that those numbers will improve as part of this trend that can only be described as “the rise of women in the workplace.”
These issues will be among those addressed by the 2013 Women’s Forum sponsored by Georgetown Law. Although the conference has been limited to Georgetown Law alumni in the past, this year the one-day conference on Friday, June 14, 2013 will be open to all lawyers. It is a great opportunity to network with other women lawyers, share experiences and build strong professional relationships. The event will feature panels of accomplished Georgetown Law alumnae and other speakers on topics of interest to all women lawyers. For more information and to register, visit: www.law.georgetown.edu/alumni/alumni-events/womens-forum/index.cfm.
As a Georgetown Law graduate, I personally invite you to attend. The people at the law school who are responsible for this event are well known to me, and they do a fine job of keeping us informed about the progress of women in the law and the challenges that continue to face us. It is an event that you will not want to miss.
I will be there on June 14th, and I hope that you will join me. Be a Hoya for a day!
It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Check out the link below and the invitation to the Ladies DC event on May 28th at the A Bar featuring Best Friends at the Bar. I will be making remarks and taking questions, and I can’t wait to see you all there!
Ladies DC is a great organization for young professional women, and the leadership understands that the messages of Best Friends at the Bar are not limited to women in the law. The messages about work-life challenges and the difficulties of working in male dominated environments extend to young women in other professional settings as well.
Thank you to Ladies DC for highlighting Best Friends at the Bar and helping young women survive and thrive in their professional lives.
In my last blog, I discussed the crisis in law education today and the reality that law schools are not turning out practice-ready lawyers, who can begin their practices in ways that do not present a threat to the profession and best practices. I wrote about some of the specific skills that have been identified as lacking in law school education and the adverse effect that has on producing practice-ready lawyers. I ended by promising you a discussion of what some of the solutions might be. So, I am here to make good on my promise!
Following are some ideas that are being tossed around to address the classroom crisis in legal education and to enhance the opportunities for law school graduates to enter the practice with greater skills and professionalism. Fortunately, these ideas are being talked about and written about more and more lately, and they are ideas that you need to be aware of to protect your careers and futures in the law.
First of all, law schools will have to look at the curricula and the background and competency of their faculties to assure that the schools are doing all they can to produce practice-ready lawyers. People like Bill Henderson at Indiana Law School, who has made practice-ready lawyers his raison d’etre in recent years, and Brian Tamanaha at Washington University Law and author of Failing Law Schools, are leading the charge on this. I have written about both of them in the past, and I generally agree with most of what they say. As I have written, however, I think that Professor Tamanaha goes too far in equating failing law schools with what he seems to consider a failing and undesirable law profession, but, if we are not careful, that will be more true than not. In response to the pressures brought about by these thought leaders and others and the pressures on law schools from falling enrollments, law schools today finally are taking this seriously.
Secondly, professional bar associations, including the American Bar Association, must assure that the issues of quality training of law students and young lawyers is given top priority in their determinations about the needs of the profession and in the training programs that they provide. This is critically important because the skills and professionalism lacking in the educations of young lawyers today only can be most effectively taught by professionals, who are out in the world of practice interacting with adverse counsel, courts and clients on a daily basis. Professional supervision of and mentoring of young lawyers are at the heart of any success story on these issues.
So, this brings me to the last of the solutions that seem to have the greatest possibility of success. To address this option, we need to take a trip down memory lane and recall the apprenticeship programs that were popular in the law profession years ago and the reasons for them. Legal apprenticeship programs are similar to internships and residencies in medical school education today. Both involve professionals training professionals and the setting is real-life practice. Although it is probably not a good idea to tack unpaid or low compensated internships onto already out of control law school tuition costs, apprenticeship-type programs are possible within the current law school three-year programs. Some schools are experimenting with this option, and we are seeing benefits from those programs already.
Washington and Lee University School of Law has adopted a curriculum that includes the third year as an all clinical program. I was a guest lecturer in that program several years ago, and I was very impressed with the goals of the program and how those goals were being implemented. At that time, students spent one semester in clinical settings appropriate to transactional practice and another semester in clinical settings appropriate to litigation. It takes a little shuffling around of course loads to get all of the required classes into the first two years of law school, but it can be done.
Other approaches are less attractive and seldom utilized, but they do exist and are worth mentioning as they relate to the general concept of apprenticeship. These programs are most often referred to as “reading the law” because they are offered under the supervision and mentoring of either a practicing attorney or a judge. For instance, a handful of states, including New York and Virginia, allow individuals to take the bar after working for a law office for a number of years, in lieu of going to law school.
In California, Maine, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, an applicant who has not attended law school may take the bar exam after reading law under a judge or practicing attorney for an extended period of time. The required time varies and exact rules vary as well. These “reading the law” programs leave a lot to be desired for producing well-educated and well-rounded law graduates, and they are mentioned here only within the context of apprenticeships and the critical roles that professionals play in those educations.
So, these are some of the ideas being experimented with to improve the practice skills of law school graduates, which will, in turn, increase their marketability. When corporate clients are refusing to pay for the services of first and second year associates because the clients consider those young attorneys to be “unskilled,” you have to know that being practice-ready will improve employment options.
Anything that can improve employment options is worth looking into!
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Either you run the day or the day runs you.
The profession of law faces some big problems these days. The ones that you hear about the most are the relatively few numbers of jobs available to graduates, the high costs of legal education and the effect on student loan debt, and the few practice-ready graduates that law schools are turning out today. I would add to those my own concerns that the law profession is losing talent at record numbers because of work-life issues that affect women so severely.
Of all of these, the one that concerns me the most is the sub-standard training of new lawyers that results in so few practice-ready graduates. That may surprise you because the mission of Best Friends at the Bar is focused on women’s issues, but it should not. The training of lawyers is critical to all career issues, for men and women alike, and is a threshold issue. I know how to prioritize my concerns.
We hear lots of complaints today that “newly minted lawyers are inadequately prepared to practice law, that they are not sufficiently trained in core competencies, management skills, or professionalism [and that these issues] present public protection issues” in term of best practices, as stated in the Virginia Lawyer magazine’s February 2013 issue. According to that article, the particular skills that need improving are writing skills, problem-solving skills, client interaction skills, and judgment and discretion. I think you would agree that is a pretty hefty list.
As also stated in a follow-up article in the Virginia Lawyer, “We are preparing new attorneys in analog whereas the legal world outside the law school bubble has gone digital.” In other words, we need modern solutions for modern problems. Ironcially, however, it seems to me that most of the logical approaches to solving the problems harken back to good old common sense and the lessons of the past. Be sure to read my follow-up blog to find out why.
So, what can be done about this? Some rather radical changes to the way we have been doing business in law schools and in the early years of practice, I think. The practice of law has changed more in the last 25 years than it changed in the prior 200 years, and revisions to how we train lawyers have to be a part of those changes. We know that the private practice of law revolves around considerations of profit and that the changes in the law law firm practices involve issues of leveraging, being responsive to client demands for diversity and alternative billing models, restructuring in the age of technology and global practices, to name just a few. Yes, those things are important, but who we have practicing law and how well they do it in the early years certainly relates to profits and business concepts as well. Simply put, if law firms cannot bill out entry level lawyers to pay at least the overhead costs associates with those lawyers, they will not hire them.
To hear about the specific possible solutions that are being discussed today, read my next blog where I will discuss the priorities that I think must be established and executed on to begin to solve the problems of training young lawyers.
TO BE CONTINUED!