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    November 26th, 2007


    And though my lack of education
    Hasn’t hurt me none
    I can read the writing on the wall

    Words and music by Paul Simon.

    In talking with lawyers of all ages, there is a general consensus that while law schools teach the theory of law well, they do a less-than stellar job in actually preparing lawyers to practice law. While anecdotal evidence is interesting, Gene Koo of The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, in collaboration with the LexisNexis Group, did a study on the gaps between what is taught in law schools and the skills that are needed in the workplace (

    They found:

    • “More than 75 percent of lawyers surveyed said they lacked critical practice skills after completing their law school education.
    • Today’s workplace demands skills that the traditional law school curriculum does not cover.
      • Many attorneys work in complex teams distributed across multiple offices: nearly 80 percent of lawyers surveyed belong to one or more work teams, with 19 percent participating in more than five teams. Yet only 12 percent of law students report working in groups on class projects.
      • Smaller firms can stay competitive with larger firms through more nimble deployment of technology tools and by exploiting the exploding amount of data openly available on the Web. Attorneys at these firms need tech-related skills to realize these opportunities.
    • Legal educators seriously under-utilize new technologies, even in those settings, such as clinical legal education, that are the most practice-oriented.”

    The question is, are law schools adequately preparing student for real-life practice? According to Prof Gary Munnuke of Pace University, who started teaching the first course on law practice management in law school in 1982, of the 218 law schools in the USA (, only about 53 have started to teach some sort of practice management component, which is approximately 24% of the total.

    ( (I wish I could find similar stats for Canada, but I am not optimistic that we are markedly different).

    At least in Canada we have the articling period, which offers a period of transition from law school to practice. In my discussions with US lawyers and bar associations, they recognize the need for a graduated licensing program or other change to their system that would allow a similar buffer period between leaving law school and setting up in practice. But the articling period only sidesteps the issue as to whether the mandate of law school should be to teach students about the law, or prepare lawyers for practice.

    The Berkman study notes that law students should be exposed to four new skill areas:

    • knowledge-generating (separating knowledge from data, or in other words, dealing with information overload)
    • techno-social (working with colleagues via technology. An example is negotiating settlements via email and other ‘low emotional bandwidth’ methods, that require different social skills than face-to-face negotiations)
    • metapractice (translation of one-off situations into systems of practice. This skill set incorporates ‘systems level’ thinking that allows a lawyer to combine technology with the process of law and build systems that deliver legal services in a cost-effective manner up and down the value chain) and
    • for those who manage lawyers, technology management skills.

    The emphasis on teamwork, collaboration skills (including on-line collaboration skills as are necessary to draft and edit a document among different parties in different time zones using the Internet) and how technology has changed the way lawyers practice law are overriding themes of this study.

    An interesting aspect is the growing need for lawyers to work in teams, supported by technology. This is not surprising for lawyers in larger firms, but the study found that 53% of respondents in firms of 2-20 lawyers report belonging to at least one team. Interestingly, while emails, conference calls and in-person meetings were found ‘useful’ for team collaboration, “Practice-specific software such as litigation support or document management systems represents another significant means of collaboration (46%)”. This rather counters the image of the solitary knight riding off to do battle on behalf of a client. It further underscores the importance that litigation support technology has come to play in helping litigation lawyers work as a team as well as organize the case!

    Certainly there is a need for law schools to have clinical development programs, which expose students to the actual practice of law. However, the report noted for even for those law schools that had clinical programs in place, “not all clinical programs have robust technology infrastructures, meaning that students may not in fact be experiencing fully authentic practice”. The report’s author also found that lawyers entering smaller practices may need more extensive and specific training in technology management skills than their big-firm counterparts.

    The report’s authors found that at one top-tier school with several clinical programs in place, only the largest clinical projects actively use Time Matters; the others apparently lack the resources necessary to customize the product to their needs. While the study found that generally speaking law students are much more skilled with technology than the lawyers in the firms in which they are hired, law students come out of law school with at best, a limited exposure to the legal technological tools that are actually in use in law firms. This raises the question of where lawyers are going to acquire the knowledge of how to effectively use legal technology – if not in law school and not in practice…then ..exactly…where? Perhaps it is time to look at the reports in black and white and read the writing on the wall…

    (this is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)


    This entry was posted on Monday, November 26th, 2007 at 12:44 am and is filed under Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Technology, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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