What Law Schools Should Really Be Teaching
by: Kate Reder Sheikh of Major Lindsey & Africa  -  Major Lindsey & Africa Articles
Monday, August 15, 2022

Law school could be a better experience. It could be more practical and could encompass the business of the law more than it does. It could be less theoretical and more brass-tacks. It could train future associates rather than the small handful who will become constitutional law professors. If law school was objectively better, it could increase associate longevity at their firms and generally leave people less stranded in practice.

What do I, a recruiter and former lawyer with a decade and a half of experience since law school graduation, see as the solution? Law schools should teach project management, sales, a mini-MBA course, legal tech, drafting (not just legal writing) and people management. A major benefit of a more practical law school experience would be to better prepare first generation students for practice. Law school can be inscrutable to first generation students, and some of the more archaic classes can leave them (and others!) scratching their head about what relevance legal study holds in practice. The more we can teach law students about these elements that are key to being a lawyer, the better.

Project management:

One of the things that drives people out of BigLaw are the constant “fire drills” at work that are manmade and not actual preconditions of the work. They are a failure of project management, of delegation, of calendar-consciousness. It’s no mystery why some lawyers aren’t great at managing their desks in this way—it is, for many, a learned skill. So, let’s teach it. For first generation students without parents in white collar professional roles, project management may be an entirely new concept.

Sales:

Sales is such a dirty word inside the law, but it needn’t be. Law students should be taught the fundamentals—boot-camp style. Why do sales matter to lawyers? In BigLaw, partners need to sell to clients. Associates need to learn to pitch their team to potential clients or to sell projects to the younger associates on their team. SmallLaw and solo lawyers need to sell and market constantly. There are fundamentals of sales that aren’t hard to learn and are worth presenting in the law school context.

Mini-MBA:

An MBA typically includes accounting, finance, marketing, organizational behavior, economics and management. Lawyers, in a BigLaw or solo practice context, need all these things. Law firms are businesses, but they’re usually run by people with a JD, not an MBA. As such, we need to plant these seeds early at the law school level. The accounting and finance pieces are critical to running a health business on the macro or micro level, and I didn’t touch an ounce of either during my law school career. Organizational behavior is the study of organizational processes and employee behavior to create more efficient and cohesive organizations. A primer on this could do wonders for law students.

Legal tech:

Legal tech is absolutely everywhere, and brand new associates will be wading into a deep ocean of foreign acronyms if they don’t begin to familiarize themselves with some of the big players during law school. Everything from DISCO to Slack can be introduced during law school to smooth the path toward practice. This feels especially important for first-generation students who are already facing a major knowledge gap about the workings of businesses generally. Students who aren’t receiving primers on legal tech should reach out for external resources. Two such options are Innovative Law Student. and Law Technology Today.

Drafting and reviewing contracts:

Regardless of one’s chosen practice area, it is extremely likely that an associate will need to be able to draft a water-tight contract. Legal writing courses often focus on the Bluebooking aspect of it all, but legal writing for transactional lawyers if often overlooked. Students should have to both draft and mark up a contract more than once during law school. This feels more important than understanding the Rule against Perpetuities.

People management:

Even if you’re committed to a lifelong career as a solo practitioner, you will likely still have staff on board. Very few lawyers practice truly alone. As such, it is mission-critical to learn how to manage people. What does that look like? Students should learn how to design organizational processes. Law students should practice—as part of a team exercise—delegating, implementing projects on time, and delivering feedback. Managing people is an art, but the basics can be taught and practiced before they are called upon at work.

Some law schools offer courses that would sound more at home at a liberal arts college, i.e., modern art and the law. Interesting stuff but not broadly relevant to practice. Very few people need to understand international admiralty law, and yet it is offered widely. Law school has long existed in rarified air with more attention given to the corner concepts of adverse possession and the eggshell skull than the practicalities of running a legal business. Plainly, a lot of legal education is esoteric instead of comprehensive. It’s beyond time to modernize. A more practical law school experience would, simply put, better prepare tomorrow’s lawyers.

Ninety percent of what I learned at my (excellent!) law school was never called upon in my decade of practice. Law students of tomorrow could benefit from a less intellectually haughty and more modern, realistic course of study that acknowledges the law as a business.

 

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