University of Denver

Foundations for Practice Project Continues to Make Waves

IAALS Intern

Our Foundations for Practice project has permeated the profession as law schools and legal employers seek to bridge the gap between ensuring students learn the right skills and competencies to be successful in practice and ensuring legal employers have the best hiring criteria to secure the right candidates.

In a recent op-ed by Robert Kuehn, Associate Dean for Clinical Education at Washington University, Kuehn noted how law schools’ overwhelming focus on bar passage rates cause them to lose sight of—and fail—their primary duty: ensuring that law students are prepared for entry into the legal profession and a successful career in law.

In support of this conclusion, Kuehn highlighted results from the Foundations study, which found that characteristics such as integrity, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, and common sense, as well as professional competencies such as listening attentively, speaking, writing, and arriving on time, are far more important for brand new lawyers than legal skills. Kuehn noted:

“[O]nly in clinical and first-year legal writing courses are there efforts in the law school curriculum to address the ‘soft skills’ so necessary for the success of new lawyers.”

The Foundations for Practice study builds upon the results of earlier studies that sought to determine the effectiveness of legal education in preparing students for careers in law. One such study conducted on lawyers during their legal careers back in 1978 revealed that two thirds of the lawyers surveyed felt that their law schools “had been ‘not helpful’ or ‘played no role’ in their ability to develop essential practice skills.”

Now, 39 years later, it appears that the same hurdles in preparing law students for successful legal careers persist.

According to Kuehn, if the goal of legal education is “not to train lawyers, but to educate men and women for becoming lawyers,” as a former Dean of the University of Chicago School of Law said over fifty years ago, isn’t it about time that law schools figure out a way to teach both legal knowledge and the practical skills and competencies that law students need to be successful?

Mark Staines is a second-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to