In-House Counsel: Law Schools Must Play Key Role in Training Practice-Ready Lawyers

October 19, 2011

The online legal community was abuzz Monday with the news that corporate clients don’t want to foot the bill for new lawyer training thanks to a Wall Street Journal article that asks: “First-Year Associates: Are They Worth It?”

Of course, we’ve all heard this before, but at least one statistic the Wall Street Journal brings to light will likely capture the attention of managing partners around the country: “more than 20% of the 366 in-house legal departments that responded are refusing to pay for the work of first- or second-year attorneys, in at least some matters.”

And the results aren’t isolated—the Wall Street Journal says this approach is a growing trend. We think it’s a trend law schools should be paying attention to. After all, as Elie Mystal of Above the Law asked in his response to the article, “If law schools aren’t pumping out people who can convince clients to pay for their work, then what are law schools doing really?”

We’ve been talking to in-house counsel for months about gaps in legal education and the skills they would like law schools to develop in their students.

In a recent interview , Annita Menogan, who serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, said companies don’t want to pay $165 per hour for a new lawyer who doesn’t know anything but they would not be opposed to paying for a new lawyer who offered real value to a case.

Douglas Scrivner, who recently retired as General Counsel of Accenture, said that economic realities have forced law firms to abandon on-the-job training for new lawyers. He believes the duty to train lawyers must fall to the law schools that have been entrusted to educate them.

Richard Baer, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of UnitedHealth Group, agrees. He adds that law schools should abandon their attachment to the three-year curriculum and look to other professional programs, like medicine, to develop a new model.

At its core, Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers is about enabling law schools to train lawyers who graduate ready to practice by encouraging and facilitating innovation in legal education. While our mission has its share of challenges, we’re heartened that the time is right for reform. As Dean Martin Katz said recently, we’re in a perfect storm.

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