Aside from optional externship opportunities, most law schools in the United States do not require its students to participate in any sort of hands on legal training. In fact, outside of the typical classroom lectures, law review, or moot court groups, many law students will graduate, take the bar exam, and begin their first legal job with no real practical skills. Not only is this a detriment to the young attorney and his/her potential clients, this formula for law school is a real strain on the students’ pocket books.
Future lawyers would be better served if our country’s legal education were restructured. Students have more than enough time to cover all the basic courses (contracts, torts, real property, civil procedure, etc.), as well as the advanced and practice area specific classes, within the first two years of traditional classroom lectures. However, the third year should be geared to a mandatory apprenticeship requirement, much like a medical student’s residency program. This would allow the law student to gain hands on and practical knowledge and experience. Additionally, instead of paying expensive tuition costs for a third year of classroom lectures, the student would be making money! Just as medical students do not make soaring incomes as residents, the law students’ apprenticeship year would include only a modest salary. This would benefit the employer as well, providing an educated and soon to be lawyer, at a highly discounted salary.
As with most recent graduates beginning a new career, young lawyers need hands on training, and are not fully prepared to begin practicing law efficiently straight out of law school. Sure, a new lawyer knows how to do legal research, how to draft a brief, and what “respondeat superior” means. However, simple yet important skills can only be learned from experience. For example, after you research and draft that amazing brief to attach to a motion to suppress evidence because of a Fourth Amendment violation, where do you go to file it? When is the appropriate time to make such a motion? After filing a personal injury complaint, what is the protocol in the court room where you first appearance is scheduled? What things are covered at a preliminary conference? These questions, which are second nature and seemingly insignificant to the veteran attorney, are real concerns for a new attorney, who still needs to “get their feet wet”. Wouldn’t it be great to have a structured apprenticeship program in place for a year, to help the young attorney learn court room procedure and protocol, and to learn the “ins and outs” of daily practice, through a controlled and guided mentorship program. Imagine how much more prepared and effective a first year associate would be, to both the firm and to its clients, were the third year structured in this way.