The law profession is ripe for a close look at how it is serving its members. And that close look needs to begin at the bottom. It needs to focus on entry-level lawyers and how their experiences can be improved and enriched — for their benefit and for the benefit of the organizations they serve.
My ABA Journal February column was published today and explores reengineering of the law profession — from the bottom up. It includes proposals for changes to law school curricula to produce “practice ready” lawyers, revisions to bar exams to contribute to that same goal, and the need for apprenticeships/internships and effective mentoring to enhance and advance the careers of young lawyers and preserve their talent to take law firms into the future.
A fresh look at these subjects is long overdue and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. The concept of “practice ready” lawyers has been kicked around for years in the profession, but the resistance from law schools, boards of bar examiners, and bar prep companies has been significant. They all have turf to protect that makes initiating change difficult.
Keep in mind that the US is not the only legal market in the world. Other countries approach legal education and legal licensure differently, especially those countries that impose mandatory requirements for post-graduate apprenticeships to assure competency and readiness for practice . In Canada, for example, the apprenticeship requirement is known as “Articling,” and every lawyer in Canada, after graduating from law school and before being admitted to the bar, is required to go through one year of Articling. In British Columbia, that one year of Articling consists of three months of practical courses followed by the bar exam and nine months of practical experience in a law firm.
In the UK, the apprenticeship requirement to become a barrister is known as “pupillage,” and legal licensure in Germany requires a multiple-stage clerkship. These programs are all designed to avoid what happens in America where entry-level lawyers have little practical experience, feel ill-prepared for practice, and suffer feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and loss of confidence as a result. For those who do not receive effective mentoring at their law firms or other places of business, the temptation to leave the profession is strong and too many of them do just that.
So our failure to meet the needs of future lawyers results in loss of talent in the profession and negative impacts on succession plans. That does not make sense, and it does not have to be that way. Kicking the can down the road will get us nowhere. The time for change is now.