Thought For The 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

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Ladies DC Features BFAB at the Annual Happy Hour

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.

Cover Photo

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More on Professional Soul-Searching

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!


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Thought For The Day

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Benjamin Franklin



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Thought For The Day

Either you run the day or the day runs you.

Jim Rohn



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It is Time for Some Professional Soul-Searching

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.



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Thought For The Day

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.

C. S. Lewis


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Winning and Losing for Women

I hope that you have heard about the new book, Top Dog:  The Science of Winning and Losing by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  Better yet, maybe you have read it.  From what I have read so far, the concepts are fascinating.  The book explores the differences between winning and losing performances and why are we not always up for the challenge.  It gives insight into how we all can become better competitors and uses scientific evidence and wisdom gained from politics, finance, genetics, neuroscience, psychology, military training, sports, economics, and education to help readers identify their competitive styles and make game-changing decisions on the way they compete.

Although the book addresses competition in both sexes, there is so much here for women.  With so many women in the workplace today, including in law practice, the competition is keen between men and women, but, as you will read in the book, that does not mean that men and women compete the same way.  They don’t.

According to the research included in Top Dog, women and men choose competitors differently, differ in their approaches to winning or not losing, judge circumstances differently, approach risk differently, and choose who they will compete against differently, to name just a few distinctions.  These distinctions definitely amount to differences that can be outcome determinative in settings like job interviews, board meetings, managing and mentoring.

The authors urge women to be more competitive in their work environments and explain why it is important for women to play to win and not to be so dependent on calculating odds of success before trying something new.  They downplay the importance of coalition building and encourage women to speak up without being invited into the conversation.  Raising your hand and waiting to be acknowledged can short circuit your opportunities to make valuable contributions.

I often have made the sports analogy between the behavior of men and women in business in my books and in my programs.  And, here it is again in Top Dog.  You will read there that men approach their careers like sport—they play hard and they are prepared for both victory or defeat.  Women, however, are much more cautious and want more assurances before they get in the game and “leave it all on the field.”

It reminds me of that great quote from Dwight Eisenhower that I posted as a Thought For the Day recently:  “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.” In Top Dog, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman reveal the size of the fight in all of us and help us to take it to the next level.

I absolutely cannot wait to read more of this book.  I am jumping on a plane later this week with book in hand.  Stay tuned to see if my high expectations are met.  I also am following up on a recent program at Georgetown University where author Merryman spoke about the book.  Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, and I have inquired about any recording of the program that may be available.  When I get that information, I will pass it on to all of you.

Until then, what are you waiting for?   Take a risk.  Speak up and do not wait to be invited into the conversation.  Play hard to win, and be confident.  Make people notice you by your confidence and your willingness to take on new challenges and move out of your comfort zone.  Get in the game!


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