With the challenges of finding gainful employment in the legal industry, new law school graduates are increasingly faced with the prospect of starting their own law practice due to the scarcity of securing a position at mid to large law firms. Many hadn’t even considered hanging a shingle until the reality of the legal marketplace made it clear that it may just be their best hope. Some will face a rude awakening when they find out that learning procedure and case law in the classroom does not necessarily prepare them for the real world rigors of writing contracts, preparing arguments and understanding the ocean of nuance required to navigate the modern legal system. In fact, in the BARBRI group’s “State of the Legal Field Survey” (PDF) found that while 76 percent of 3Ls felt they were ready to practice “right now,” only 56 percent of practicing attorneys who work with recent law grads felt that the newly minted lawyers were prepared to practice law.
Although airline pilots are required to go through rigorous on-the-job training and serve as a copilot before airlines will put the lives of passengers in their hands, attorneys are allowed to immediately handle potentially life-changing cases in personal injury, auto accidents, workers compensation or helping someone obtain much needed social security disability benefits. A poorly handled criminal case could land someone in prison for the rest of their natural life. You would think that should warrant some level of apprenticeship before jumping into the fray. But, as we know our system does not require it.
Many believe that there should still be some level of supervision of new lawyers, particularly in their first year which can be particularly hard due to new lawyers being unprepared to handle the emotional aspects of dealing with real clients in difficult life situations. Client management comes with experience, it can’t be learned in a classroom.
But given the realities of today’s legal industry, many new law school graduates are faced with tough choices with lower than expected entry-level positions and in many cases are saddled with very high education loans. If you are in this situation, what are your options? Given that the first year is always rough, looking to assist other attorneys on their case load is a great way to get experience and oversight. New lawyers can fill a need – take cases at reduced fees, cases no one else really wants, cases that are “quasi pro-bono” or generally low risk—matters that will not only help them gain confidence but also allow the new graduate opportunities to interact with clients and guide them through the process. Mentorship from seasoned attorneys is another crucial way for new attorney to accelerate their learning curve, especially in the gray areas of the law. Remember, there is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom: Knowledge states that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom states that a tomato should not go in a fruit salad.
I guess it really depends on what it means to practice law. If it means a new graduate can perform legal work, then most graduates have the legal knowledge to analyze a legal problem. But legal knowledge alone does not provide all the practical skills needed to work with clients, other attorneys and the court system. Law school also does not teach you the day to day minutiae that you need to deal with that can make or break your case. Recent law grads need to be willing to be mentored and to ask lots of questions. If they are humble enough to do that, they are ready to practice law.
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