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November 12, 2006

Seeking your input in a survey of new attorneys

LexisNexis has offered to help us (the Berkman Center's research initiative) learn more about how prepared new lawyers are for today’s legal work world by conducting a survey of recent graduates. I ask anyone with an interest in the topic to submit your suggestions for what this survey should entail. While not every question can be answered by this survey, I hope to get some good ideas as well as instigate some good discussion.

Because our project focuses on the influence of technology on practice and on education, I would especially appreciate questions that poke in that general direction.

So, to restate the question: As someone interested in legal education or training (whether you’re a law professor, law firm manager, CLE provider, director of professional development, legal technologist, law librarian, associate, or law student), what did you wish you knew about today’s newest attorneys (say, those with 0-5 years of experience)? Also, given limited resources, should we attempt to survey one population (say, big firm associates) more thoroughly, or try to get participants from across practice settings?

Gene Koo

November 12, 2006 in Teaching -- research | Permalink


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The Law School Innovation Blog is asking for helping with its current research on how prepared young lawyers are for today's demanding legal work. Gene Koo, writing on behalf of the Berkman Center at Harvard, asks for the following input:So, [Read More]

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Actually, I suspect students are generally more comfortable with technology than either their professors or the lawyers they will soon work with. They may have more to teach than learn on this score.

Some thoughts for other question:

1. Did you during your law school experience ever see a contract as part of a class (outside of the context of a provision quoted in a case)?

2. Did you participate in any simulations or clinical experiences focused mainly on negotiating, advising or drafting documents for a business transaction (as opposed to mock trial or moot court experienced focused mainly on litigation)?

Posted by: Walter Hutchens | Nov 12, 2006 5:05:32 PM

I'd like to know, looking back on all their classes, what course(s) did they find most useful and what course(s) did they find least useful.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 12, 2006 5:34:46 PM

I would focus on the basics and make sure
a law school graduate can write a simple
declarative sentence and a coherent,logical
paragraph. If law schools can accomplish
these goals, the entire profession will be
better off.

Posted by: Steven Sholk | Nov 13, 2006 10:53:50 AM

This is a bit of a long explanation of what I would like to know about new attorneys that I would like to hire.

I am a young solo attorney and I have been looking to hire two to three quality associates. I have been trying law clerks with the aim of hiring them full time upon graduation, but so far (for the past two years) I have not been able to find one student who can (1) identify correct legal issues as they relate to client facts, (2) perform legal research efficiently (as it relates to the issues which they cannot identify), (3) help out in managing the case flow, or (4) have the confidence to talk with clients about their legal issues.

I should note that the clerks that I have hired so far have all come from ivy or other higher ranked schools. I, on the other hand, attended not-so-high ranked schools (Texas Tech School of Law and the Univ. of Houston Law Center). My schools provided courses with an emphasis on what you really need to know to practice law in that particular area. In fact, the U of H was so proficient at this that I was able to start taking cases in a number of different areas after taking the U of H class (almost all of their classes were all taught by adjuncts who were the leading practitioners in their field and the classes integrated projects that the adjunct had been working on in their own practices).

I am now at a point where I will not hire another clerk or associate from a high ranked school -- which is a problem, because almost all of the young lawyers in my area attended this type of law school (This leaves me wondering if all of the attorneys that I am looking for opt to start their own practices rather than work for a firm....).

All of that is a long explanation as to why I would like to know if the student has had some (any?) instruction that will allow them to handle actual cases or that would allow me to put them in front of clients (without having to worry about losing the clients)....

Posted by: K. Mitchell | Nov 13, 2006 5:32:43 PM

That first parenthetical in the final paragraph needs to be augmented with "librarian." Clearly, legal research skills are pertinent to the preparation of new attorneys, and law school libraries are an important point of contact with at least some of the students. Students seek guidance for course work, naturally, but also for clinical projects, summer work, journal responsibilities, and other undertakings. Questions you might want to pose on a survey could include the following, crafted more or less open-ended:

1) Did you take an advanced legal research course? (Or some more open-ended alternative, such as "If you took one, how did your ALR course affect your research skills at your firm/organization?")

2) Did your law school provide an orientation to the library or introduce you to its staff?

3) How often did you use the library, and how did you use it?

And so forth. These are merely suggestions intended to point out how some familiarity with the law library--including its electronic resources--and formal instruction might lead to better preparation.

Posted by: Dean C. Rowan | Nov 13, 2006 5:57:14 PM

Thanks for the feedback so far -- I've been inviting law firm professional development directors, technologists, CLE providers, and others to join the fray here. Dean Rowan, your point is well-taken and I've amended the original post per your suggestion.

These are all great suggestions! Since I am with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, anything you'd like to know about associate's use of the internet, technology, etc. would also be much appreciated. Keep the ideas coming!

Posted by: Gene Koo | Nov 13, 2006 6:32:36 PM

This is what I intend to submit! Want to add anything?

AH . . . where do I begin?

1. Why did you go to law school?
2. Do you love the law? Why?
3. Do you seek answers to understand a legal point or to hand in the assignment and get the Professor/Partner off your back?
4. When was the last time you checked the table of contents or the index of a book?
5. Do you see the value in learning about ALL available resources and mastering their use?
6. If you answered 'yes' to the question above, what is that value?
7. Do you think that you are a proficient Internet users? Why?
8. Have you ever used the Advanced feature of any search engine?
9. Do you know the pricing structure for Lexis and Westlaw?
10. Do you think the library staff should be finding cases on point for you? If yes, why?
11. Do you think doing your own legal research is for law students only and once you become a lawyer that arduous task will be behind you?
12. Do you think it is your professional responsibility to learn the terms of art for your area of 'expertise'?
13. What is the difference between a statute and a regulation?
14. Can you spell statute?
15. Do you know the difference between a treatise and a treaty?
16. Do you know the basics of the legislative process, i.e., how a bill becomes a law?
17. If your intent was to work at a large firm, did you take any securities classes in preparation?

I can go on, but I think you get the point.

Posted by: Shelly P. | Nov 14, 2006 9:48:34 AM

And I thought there was a problem with legal technology! The other comments suggest that perhaps the problems with the law academy go well beyond technology. But I'll stick to what I know a bit about.

Law students today are undoubtedly more tech savvy now than 20 years ago. But just how receptive to and interested in learning new technology are they? They probably rank low in that regard, at least relative to their peers studying other professions. Ultimately this is an empirical question but my experience in large law firms is that "if you build it, they will come" does not work, even with freshly minted, supposedly tech-savvy lawyers.

If technology is the focus, it would be interesting to conduct some simple market research on young associates (and stratify it by year to see if there is a change as young attorneys gain experience). I would be interested in assessing what computer tools new lawyers know and use and at what level of depth. This would include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, with questions designed to see how strong users are in each. Beyond that, do young lawyers use other tools and how well? I assume all use Google, but do they know other search tools? How many read blogs; how many use a news aggregator; how many write a blog. Do they use social bookmarking sites such as del.ico.us. Ask them what, in their opinion, the most creative or advanced use of computing they have done. The goal with these types of questions is to profile new lawyers' receptivity to using computers and willingness to learn. Note that I'm not even focusing on legal-specific apps. My starting hypothesis - one that I believe is testable with survey data - is that lawyers, even new ones who grew up with tech - are not good technology users.

I hope I'm wrong, but if the hypothesis is confirmed by survey data, that would inform law firms about what expectations they should have of new lawyers re technology and what type of training might be required (in law school or at the firm).

Posted by: Ron Friedmann | Nov 15, 2006 7:52:43 AM

A comment on the question of what population of new lawyers should be surveyed. If you consider the data from the After the JD Study about the practice settings of newer lawyers, most lawyers are in private practice, but the largest percentage are at small to medium firms (i.e. 2-250 total lawyers). The After the JD data suggests that you shouldn't focus on big firm associates, and might be better served with a random sample across firms of all sizes.

Posted by: Deborah Cantrell | Nov 15, 2006 3:16:56 PM

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