University of Denver

Prominent Solo Identifies Six Competencies for Entry-Level Lawyers in 21st Century

Former Senior Director

Much of the work on core competencies for entry-level lawyers has focused on large firms, often because it has been harder to collect this information from small firms. This is a challenge because small and medium firms continue to be major destinations for law school graduates.

Today, in an open letter to law schools, longtime solo, author of Solo by Choice, and blogger, Carolyn Elefant, demanded that law schools teach students to be employable by solos and small firms.

But here's why what my solo and small firm colleagues and I have to say matters so much. Back in the day, most schools prepped attorneys to work at big law – but those jobs are gone for good. Likewise, most government employers, which can hire big law cast offs with several years of experience, won't touch new grads. With the rising popularity of the “future of law,” the cool kids – like Axiom command lots of attention as the next big thing but I've got news for you: those guys can cherry-pick top talent (which is, after all their business model); if they deign to hire your new grads, it will be to support marketing or data analytics, not to practice law.

So, hate to break it to you, law schools, but you're stuck with employers like me: solo and small firms who are the face of today's legal employers. Maybe we don't have the resources to hire your students long term or for much pay, but at the very least, we're a safe harbor where they can gain valuable experience before they move on to a more permanent and stable position.

Elefant identified six competencies “needed to succeed in 21st century law practice”:

  1. Analysis and Legal Writing
  2. Blogging
  3. Social Media
  4. Video and Visuals
  5. Online Research
  6. Practice Management Tools and Cloud

What other competencies are important to small firm practice? How can law schools and solo/small firm lawyers work together to graduate entry-level lawyers who hit the ground running?