October 11, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver
“A friend’s daughter passed the Bar Exam on her first try in February. She recently opened an office and I hired her to handle a $50,000 collections case for my company,” “Todd” wrote.
“Doesn’t passing the Bar Exam mean that you know how to practice law? I was in for a real surprise when “Karen” told me to meet her at the opposing lawyer’s office for a deposition. I had no idea what that involves.”
“Suddenly, I am under oath, testifying, without any preparation or advice from Karen, and she is sitting there like a bump on a log, saying nothing, except nervously grinning and giggling like a kid in elementary school! Finally, the other attorney told me ‘to hire a real lawyer, because she is committing malpractice.’
“I’ve been to doctors and dentists fresh out of school who were all competent and professional. Doesn’t law school teach you how to practice law?”
‘What law school did you attend?’
If you’re thinking of hiring a recent law graduate, a chat with any law professor who teaches “Practical Lawyering,” courses would have you asking, “What law school did you attend and which practical lawyering classes did you take, if your school offered them?”
We conducted recorded interviews with Directors of Lawyering Skills at two highly ranked law schools, one in California, the other in the South, hearing almost identical reactions to Todd’s situation.
While open and helpful at first, when sent a draft of this article for approval or to make corrections–a courtesy we extend to everyone interviewed–even though accurately quoted, both instructors put on a chicken costume with a yellow stripe running down their backs wide enough for a Humvee to drive over. This was a triumph of Political Correctness over courage.
These two lawyers made it clear that they no longer wanted to be associated with their candid and accurate remarks–which illustrate the risk to the public in hiring recent graduates–and so we call them professors X and Y.
“I hear Todd’s comments far too often, but fortunately many of the better law schools around the country are starting to give their students a practical, education” Professor X stated.
“Unlike health care with patient contact from their first year–until recently, law school has always been theory, students taught how to think like a lawyer–how to pass the bar exam–but not how to practice law,” he observes.
Too Many Lawyers + Not Enough Jobs + High Debt Load = Limited Access
“The employment picture for lawyers has changed in dramatic ways and your reader’s situation is a good example,” Y believes.
“Today, a lot of clients are hiring lawyers who simply aren’t competent to handle the cases they take on, in large part, a result of the Great Recession. Here’s why:
- Before 2008, there were lots of good paying jobs for new graduates, jobs which were really an apprenticeship, the practical stuff, teaching you how to be a lawyer.
- Unless, while in school you clerked in a firm or had real hands-on experience right out of school, if you can’t find a job and open your own office, then;
- You likely lack the training or background to be practicing the kind of law you represent that you can.
“There are simply too many lawyers for available job openings. Without sufficient training or mentorship, but facing over $100,000 in law school student loan debt, the lawyer will strictly focus on making a dollar,” Y observes.
Professor X sees “A terrible conflict of interest with the client, because of the temptation to take on more than the young lawyer can handle, looking only for clients who can pay, where a little knowledge is dangerous.”
“So, we’ve got too many lawyers and a lack of access by financially strapped people who need them most. Add to that a lack of experience, and you’ve got a walking malpractice case. A lawyer who is not thinking of the ethical obligation owed to that client is a real threat. Clients need to be more wary, do their homework, and ask questions,” he maintains.
Access to information means less need to hire a lawyer
“Today individuals often do not require the same kind of detailed legal assistance previously needed,” both law professors note.
“Doing your own uncontested divorce? Want to incorporate, need a power of attorney, living will or a rental agreement? These things, and so much more can be accomplished today without a lawyer, by going online.”
“Of course not every situation can be handled that way, but often that’s all you need,” they point out.
We completely agree, and are just about finished reading, “How To Remove Your Own Appendix in 10 Easy Lessons.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.