What has been a consistent ingredient of my 25 years advising lawyers is the continuing and lasting effect of the failure of legal education to prepare law students for the practice of law – a lack of self-confidence and its companion, a lack of self-worth.
That is one of the primary reasons that I have agreed to accept a position as a career resource for the lawyers/students enrolled in the Solo Practice University.
A distinguished ABA committee composed of judges, lawyers and law professors in 1992 issued a scathing indictment of law school education since referred to as the “MacCrate Report” finding that law schools failed to teach eight of the ten fundamental skills needed to practice law competently and poorly taught the other two.
Law schools were also criticized for not instilling in students the four fundamental values of the legal profession, including the obligation to provide competent representation. (The law schools’ failure to prepare its students to do so seems to me to be a violation of this value.)
“If professional competence is the goal, the fact is troubling that so many young lawyers are seen as lacking the required sills and values at the time the lawyer assumes full responsibility for handling a client’s legal affairs. Much remains to be done to improve the preparation of new lawyers for practice.” MacCrate p. 266
The law schools must have pressured the ABA to bury the extensive recommendations of the MacCrate Report since little has been heard about it since the mid-90’s.
As a consequence, many selective law schools continued to fail to prepare their students to practice law and to funnel them to BigLaw (contrary to the career desires of most) with the faulty assurance they will be trained there. (A more likely motivation of the law schools was dreams of huge salaries used first to repay loans and then by huge donations to the schools). In doing so, the law schools pressured the students to violate another value of the profession – the obligation of lawyers to take positions consistent with their professional goals and personal values.
Another significant factor was the law schools’ failure to make students aware of their options, including the reality that more than two-thirds of all lawyers practiced in firms of five or less lawyers with half of all private practitioners being solos.
As a result, over the last 25 years, many graduates, when they became dissatisfied, having little training or knowledge of their options or how to plan a career, felt trapped and paralyzed. Some stayed. Others made a rash jump to another dissatisfying job. For those laid off, the search was often nothing less than chaotic.
Those fortunate (?) enough not to have been placed by the on-campus interviewing funnel entered the legal community without adequate preparation to represent clients. With hard work and much effort, some found mentors, took courses and became highly competent and successful practitioners.
But many within and outside BigLaw have not fared as well.
“One frequently heard plaint is that law schools in preparing students for practice give greater attention to the needs of those lawyers entering practices in which they will serve the business community than to the needs of those entering practices in which they will provide legal services to individual clients. The transition from law school into individual practice or relatively unsupervised positions in small offices, both public and private, presents problems which the law schools and the organized bar must address.” MacCrate p.47
When I read about the Solo Practice University, it appealed to me. Here might be a place where those who feel trapped in BigLaw might be able to learn a broad range of skills (and values) not conveniently offered by separate CLE programs and begin to acquire sufficient confidence to consider making a transition to solo practice or a small firm. In addition, how much more valuable and timely might Solo Practice University be for those who have no choice to stay because of having been laid off or been given notice that it will happen soon.
The same could also be said for those already in small firms or on their own looking for a more comfortable and satisfying place within the legal community. Skills training could help them grow their practice in areas they never would previously have considered.
What I hope to be able to add is advice and guidance about how to go about using the skills gained. Career planning requires deciding, among many options, in what setting the lawyer wants to practice- who he or she wants to represent in what kinds of cases. When that decision is made, some who want to eventually want to go solo may want to start out by associating and working with or for current practitioners. To find a suitable position, they will want to learn how to promote and market themselves.
I am looking forward to a long and rewarding association with Solo Practice University. I encourage you to review the material on its site and consider participating as either a student or as a member of the faculty.