As few as 23% of all lawyers believe that law students are ready to practice law when they graduate. The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), a research center at the University of Denver, is examining what foundations fledgling lawyers need to begin a successful practice and what legal education models support those foundations. What can we learn so far from the Institute’s research as it applies to teaching law students about a litigation practice?
IAALS has published two monographs. The first issue entitled “Foundations for Practice: The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient” explores what the legal profession believes new lawyers need to be successful and makes recommendations. The Institute surveyed more than 24,000 lawyers to determine what characteristics, such as integrity and common sense, and professional competencies were important for new lawyers. More narrowly, they submitted questions to lawyers who had a litigation practice. At least half of the respondents considered three foundations to be necessary in the short term, as follows: drafting pleadings, motions and briefs (72%); request and produce discovery (65%) and interview clients and witnesses (50%). Other foundational skills with significant percentages included: comfortably engage with e-discovery processes and technologies (45%); draft demand letters and releases (42%); prepare a case for trial (27%); provide quality in-court trial advocacy (27%); conduct and defend depositions (24%); prepare for and participate in mediation (21%).
Knowing what lawyers are looking for in a new hires informs those of us who teach pretrial and trial advocacy about where we should place our emphasis. It is gratifying to know that our advocacy courses concentrate on the desired skills. Our two books, Pretrial Advocacy and Trial Advocacy explore these subjects in depth and provide students with experiences in drafting the mentioned documents and performing, such as taking and defending depositions and engaging in all aspects of trial from case preparation through closing argument.
The Institute’s second monograph, “Foundations for Practice: Hiring the Whole Lawyer:Experience Matters,” reports on the Foundation’s survey of lawyers that asked how lawyers would hire if they wanted to hire those with the needed foundations to practice. The report summarized its findings as follows:
“We learned that experience matters. While many employers in practice still rely on criteria like class rank, law school, and law review, our respondents indicated that if they wanted to hire people with the broad array of foundations they identified as important, they would rely on criteria rooted in experience, including legal employment, recommendations from practitioners or judges, legal externships, participation in a law school clinic, and other experiential education.” (emphasis added)
Specifically, the report indicates that of all the listed hiring criteria, 32% of the respondents found experiential education very helpful in hiring. It is gratifying to know that pretrial and trial advocacy courses with strong experiential components will provide the type of foundation that practitioners are looking for in candidates for employment.