From Law School to Practice: Meeting Employer Expectations

In a recent paper, Professors Chew and Pryal, University of North Carolina School of Law, identified areas where legal employers’ expectations concerning law students and recent graduates diverge.

Through an anonymous survey sent to law firm employers, the professors gathered information in 3 primary areas: 1) hiring lawyers’ expectations regarding writing samples that accompany job applications; 2) supervisors’ expectations about the legal document types (i.e., genres) that new lawyers write; and 3) the habits of attorneys who supervise new lawyers.

The results showed that a majority of employers expected recent graduates to be able to write the following document types with minimal supervision: office memos (93%), motions (78%), client letters (77%), pleadings (69%), discovery documents like interrogatories (69%), orders (65%), trial briefs (65%), demand letters (59%), and appellate briefs (56%).

By contrast, a majority of employers expected law students to be able to write only one document type with minimal supervision after their 1L year: the office memo (91%). After two years of law school, students were expected to master only three legal document types: office memos (90%), client letters (58%), and motions (57%).

While employers still had higher workplace skills expectations of recent graduates than law students, the gap narrowed and was “less pronounced than the differences in expectations for document types.”

In addressing these expectations, Chew and Pryal look to practical strategies for law schools and externship supervisors to help recent graduates bridge the gap.

  1. Write Detailed Assigning Memos. By providing more details, parameters, and direction, better work products can be expected.
  2. Preserve Go-Bys, Make Them Easily Accessible, and Explain How You Want Them Used. Using Go-Bys, or model legal documents, that reflect an assignment can help students and new attorneys begin unfamiliar work and review what the author of the Go-By did well.
  3. Set Up a Buddy System. A system of peer review provides benefits from feedback and reviewing others’ work.

Hunter Metcalf is a second-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.