University of Denver

Foundations for Practice

Lawyers, judges, and clients have been consistent in their call for new lawyers who can hit the ground running. Call it what you like—practice-ready, client-ready, or just plain ready—the charge is clear. But what are the competencies, skills, characteristics, and qualities that new lawyers need to be ready? And, how can law schools and employers develop learning outcomes and identify hiring tools to instill the desired competencies, skills, characteristics, and qualities in future lawyers? Foundations for Practice is a first-of-its-kind effort to answer those questions.

Director of Legal Education and the Legal Profession
Director of Research
Strategic Design Consultant
Academic Analytics Advisor
Legal Education and Employment Advisor
Research Assistant
Legal Assistant


  • Identify the foundations entry-level lawyers need to succeed in the practice of law.
  • Develop measurable models of legal education that support those foundations.
  • Align market needs with hiring practices to incentivize positive improvements.

The employment gap for law school graduates is well-documented. Almost 34 percent of law grads in 2017 did not land full-time jobs requiring a law license ten months after graduation. What’s more, only 23 percent of practicing lawyers believe new graduates have the right skills to enter the profession. That has serious consequences, not only for job seekers but also for firms, companies, and communities unable to meet their legal and leadership needs.

But what are new lawyers missing? And how can schools and employers help grads hit the ground running? These questions are at the heart of our groundbreaking project, Foundations for Practice, which was spearheaded by Alli Gerkman. In the most comprehensive effort of its kind, we surveyed more than 24,000 lawyers in 50 states—across practice settings, specialty, and geography—to uncover the essential attributes of success for lawyers as they launch their careers.

As the profession grows more complex and competitive, employers are demanding that new lawyers have all the parts of a "whole lawyer" on day one—not only intelligence and legal skills but also key characteristics and professional competencies to use those skills in practice. Among our surprising discoveries is a “character quotient”: traits such as integrity, work ethic, and resilience that provide an early professional edge—and which may be best learned through innovative teaching methods and actual experience.

By targeting both legal education and legal employment, Foundations for Practice aims to strengthen both. Building on the study’s insights, we are developing models to help schools instill and measure what’s important, as well as hiring practices to help employers identify worthy candidates.

The impact will be closing the gap between school and career, between credentials and capabilities, between thinking like a lawyer and becoming one.

The work within Foundations for Practice is broken down among several phases, which are still in progress:

IAALS formerly housed this work under its Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers initiative until 2018.

Our 7th Annual Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Conference was held November 1-2, 2018, in Denver, Colorado. Our topic this year will cover Phase II of our Foundations for Practice project.
Law schools across the country are talking about learning outcomes—what should they be, how do you develop them, and how do you measure them? Our 5th Annual Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Conference...
At the 4th Annual Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Conference, we debuted survey results from our Foundations for Practice project, following a survey of attorneys nationwide to identify the foundations...