How Lawyers Should Hire

The current discourse about the preparation of lawyers places much of the problem on the shoulders of law schools, which are commonly criticized as focusing more on teaching students how to think like lawyers than how to actually be lawyers. Indeed, law schools have a duty to equip students with the characteristics, professional competencies, and legal skills they will need as new lawyers, but they are not the only stakeholders that need to act. Legal employers who want new lawyers to have specific characteristics, professional competencies, and legal skills also have a duty to implement hiring practices that favor job candidates who possess those foundations.

By considering the findings in this report, legal employers can begin to do that, and law schools, law students, and recent graduates can gain insight into the types of experiences and accomplishments that may signal to employers that they have the whole package—or, that they are “whole lawyers.”

Experience Matters

The results are clear. Experience matters. Overall, respondents identified the eight hiring criteria related to practical experience(23) as the most helpful in determining whether a new lawyer possesses the foundations necessary for success. Moreover, while we see these criteria shift across the different respondent groups we examined, in eleven of the sixteen individual analysis groups they still occupy the top eight slots (even if ordered differently), including two practice settings (private practice and government), one firm size (2-10 lawyers), and all years of experience and region groups. In four of the five remaining analysis groups, the eight practical experience hiring criteria still occupy positions in the top ten criteria. The only analysis group that deviates from this pattern is business in-house counsel (under practice setting), and seven of the eight practical experience hiring criteria are still included in their top ten list.

While the hiring criteria shift positions on the top ten lists depending on analysis group, there is one notable exception: legal employment. In addition to being identified as the most helpful criterion in the overall analysis, respondents in every single demographic group we examined identified legal employment as the most helpful of all the hiring criteria. Across practice settings and firm sizes, years of experience and practice region, the respondents told us: there is no substitute for actual experience in a legal setting.


23.  In this order: legal employment, recommendations from practitioners or judges, legal externships, other experiential education, life experience between college and law school, participation in law school clinic, federal court clerkship, and state court clerkship.