The Wall Street Journal Comments on FOLI Debate: Who Should Foot the Bill for New Associate Training?

by Mike Mintz on December 10, 2009 · 0 comments

in Martindale-Hubbell Connected,Martindale-Hubbell News

Need jobA few days ago we posted about the Future of the Legal Industry (FOLI) event from last week.  The Wall Street Journal has followed up with an article about FOLI called, “Legal Heavies Tackle the First-Year Associate Dilemma.”   Writer Ashby Jones gives a good overview of the evening’s events and highlights what he says was the most interesting exchange of the evening, “who should foot the bill for … first and second year associates?”

New lawyers tend to have plenty of academic legal knowledge, but very little understanding of how to practice law.  These new lawyers spend the first few years figuring out the practice of law, while clients pay big money to the firm in the form of billable hours.  According to some “legal heavies,” his translates into clients paying for on-the-job training.

This issue and others discussed at FOLI came from our research study State of the Legal Industry Survey Findings.  BusinessWire.com gives a good summary of the results, noting the gap in perception among corporate counsel and law firm lawyers on things like costs, quality of results, and the future of the industry.  Regarding first and second year associate preparedness, the survey found, “the majority of law students (65%) believe that law school teaches students legal theory, but does not teach the practical business skills needed to practice law.”  The survey also found that the current state of the legal industry has many students considering career alternatives (54%).  Perhaps most striking, “over a third of law students do not feel adequately prepared to succeed in the changing legal marketplace (35%),” and “one in five regret going to law school (21%).”

So what can we do about the training gap?

This question was never fully answered at the FOLI event.  It is a debate that has been going on in law schools for years.  Should graduates from law schools be required to do a residency similar to that of doctors?  Do summer associate positions adequately cover these skills?  Do law schools need to change their programs to include more skills based training (an arguement made by David Thomson in Law School 2.0: Legal Education for a Digital Age“)?

Another point, not yet mentioned by our sources above, is that new associates have plenty of resources available to them for quick learning.  Online sites like the New Attorney Hub from LexisNexis or the Young Lawyer’s Division of the ABA can provide new associates with a community to share knowledge and get answers.  New associates can also join professional networks like Martindale-Hubbell Connected and Linkedin to tap more senior attorneys for information.  Do social media resources close the gap at all or can the needed skills only be learned in the trenches?

What do you think?  Feel free to leave a comment here, or if you are a member of Connected, join the Future of the Legal Industry group and talk about it there with the “legal heavies” from the FOLI event (existing FOLI group members click here to access the forum discussion).

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