Why Foundations for Practice Matter

The employment gap for law school graduates is well-documented. Almost 40% of 2015 law graduates did not secure full-time jobs requiring a law license and only 70% of 2015 graduates landed a full-time job that either required a law license or gave a preference to candidates with a juris doctor. One in four 2015 graduates did not report having any type of job, even a non-professional job, after law school.(7)

Unfortunately, the employment gap runs deeper than employment rates alone. Employers lack confidence in the preparation of law graduates. In its 2015 State of the Legal Field Survey, BARBRI reported that 71% of third-year law students believe they have sufficient skills to practice, while only 23% of practitioners believe new lawyers have sufficient skills to practice.(8) In its recent report, White Paper: Hiring Partners Reveal New Attorney Readiness for Real World Practice, Lexis Nexis reported that 95% of hiring partners and associates believe recently graduated law students lack key practical skills at the time of hiring.(9)

The gap between what new lawyers have and what new lawyers need exacerbates the employment problem, but it is even more insidious than that. When new lawyers enter the workforce unprepared or under-prepared, it undermines the public trust in our legal system. Something has to shift. And for something to shift, we had to understand exactly what new lawyers need as they entered the profession.

So we asked. In late 2014, we launched Foundations for Practice (“FFP”), a national, multi-year project designed to:

  1. Identify the foundations entry-level lawyers need to launch successful careers in the legal profession;
  2. Develop measurable models of legal education that support those foundations; and
  3. Align market needs with hiring practices to incentivize positive improvements in legal education.

To meet the first objective, we developed a national survey to ascertain the legal profession’s perspective on the legal skills, professional competencies, and characteristics (collectively, “foundations”) that new lawyers need to succeed. Then, in partnership with state bar organizations across the country and generous individuals willing to championthe effort, we administered the survey in 37 states during the fourth quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015. The survey was sent to an estimated 780,694 lawyers, and a total of 24,137 attorneys—with office locations in all 50 states and representing most types of work settings and practice areas—submitted valid responses.(10)

The task of assessing Foundations for Practice is itself enormous, but we begin it with a rich vein of information. We asked respondents to rate the necessity of 147 foundations (plus two questions that allowed write-in responses); we asked fourteen questions to identify respondent demographics and practice information; we asked about the value of specialization in law school and in early practice; and we asked the respondents to identify the helpfulness of employment criteria (like law school attended, class rank, clinical experience, externships, and letters of recommendation). All of which is to say that we have a significant amount of data and countless stories to tell from that data. This is the first in a series of reports that will discuss survey results and make recommendations for implementing the results.

Endnotes:

7.  ABA Employment Summary Report, supra note 1. These numbers reflect long-term/full-time employment outcomes for 2015 graduates 10 months after graduation.

8.  BARBRI Survey, supra note 2.

9.  Lexis Nexis, Hiring Partners Reveal New Attorney Readiness For Real World Practice 1 (2015), available at https://www.lexisnexis.com/documents/pdf/20150325064926_large.pdf.

10.  For a full report on our survey methodology, see Alli Gerkman & Logan Cornett, Foundations For Practice: Survey Overview and Methodological Approach (2016), available at http://iaals.du.edu/sites/default/files/documents/publications/foundations_for_practice_survey_overview_and_methodological_approach.pdf.