Finding a lawyer: Startling news about lawyer training

Yesterday’s New York Times (Sunday November 19, 2011), published on the front page of the first section an article entitled, “What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering.” The sub-heading was “Schools Leave Practical Training to Firms.”

Needless to say, I was eager to read this, imagining that my home town newspaper was advancing part of my cause, just as I begin the How to Find a Lawyer phase of Sidebar. Because the further I get with Sidebar, the more I find it has become a manual on plaintiff-lawyer communications.

It’s a real problem. A few years ago I asked a young lawyer whether she’d had any courses at law school about communicating with clients. “No,” she said. “Not really. We had something about how to do intakes,” i.e., the initial interview with clients.

But nothing about continuing communications with clients throughout the case. So I figured this Times article would mention that law schools are at least considering a course in interactions with the actual people lawyers represent. Who would be, right? the sine qua non of the practice of law. Or so you would think.

One inset is entitled “A Possible New Curriculum.” Let’s take a look at this suggested new curriculum:

What do corporate clients wish associates were taught in law school?

¶ A better understanding of modern litigation practice,which is about gathering facts and knowing how to settle a case.

¶ Greater familiarity with transactions law, including how to draft, evaluate and challenge a contract.

¶ Deeper knowledge of regulatory law and the ability to respond to a regulatory inquiry or enforcement action.

¶ Basic corporate legal skills, like how to perform due diligence.

¶ Writing skills. Partners at law firms say they spend a lot of time improving the writing of their first- and second-year associates.

¶ A stronger grasp of the evolving economics of legal practice, which will rely less on leveraging the time of new associates and more on entrepreneurship.

Really? Do you see anything about clients here? The only time this rather long article hints at human clients is when it talks about how law students who join legal clinics in law school, “where students learn to counsel clients (usually poor), draft documents and even litigate,” have trouble getting jobs at law firms, because: “a number of veterans of legal practice … say that experience was a stigma they could not beat. … ‘[T]he academy wants people who are not sullied by the practice of law.'”

Okay, and now that I’m about to advise you on how to find a lawyer, take a look at those criteria. Do you think I’m going to suggest that when you do your initial interview with a lawyer, you ask him/her about these, um, skills?


There’s even more. Read it and be as stymied as I am. And then continue to read Sidebar, as a corrective.

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