Professor Neil Hamilton recently posted Changing Markets Create Opportunities: Emphasizing the Competencies Legal Employers Use in Hiring New Lawyers (Including Professional Formation/Professionalism) on SSRN.  Here’s the absract:

To guide legal educators and law students in responding to challenging markets both for entry-level employment and for applications to law schools, this article analyzes empirical research on the competencies that legal employers, the profession itself, and clients are looking for in a new lawyer. The article advances the proposition that law schools can build on an existing strength of helping each student develop knowledge of doctrinal law, legal analysis, legal research, legal writing and oral advocacy to do better at helping each student develop additional important competencies (and have evidence of those competencies) that legal employers, the profession, and clients and value, particularly the professional formation (professionalism) competencies.

The article reviews a number of useful surveys, including the Harvard Law study that John Steele recently described, which asked Biglaw lawyers to identify the law school courses students should take.

One of the limitations of the Harvard Law study is that it focused on Biglaw rather than looking at the entire universe of legal employment outcomes for law graduates.  For that reason, I was particularly interested in Professor Hamilton’s discussion of a 2012 survey by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.  Nearly 1,700 recent graduates from a wide range of practice settings took the survey.  This is a rich dataset, but a couple of findings were notable.

Top Knowledge Domains

Out of more than 80 “knowledge domains” surveyed, recent law graduates found the following 15 to be the most valuable:

  1. Rules of Civil Procedure
  2. Other Statutory and Court Rules of Procedure
  3. Rules of Evidence
  4. Professionalism
  5. Research Methodology
  6. Statutes of Limitation
  7. Statutory Interpretation
  8. Rules of Professional Responsibility and Ethical Obligations
  9. Document Review/Documentary Privileges
  10. Contract Law
  11. Tort Law
  12. Criminal Law
  13. Rules of Criminal Procedure
  14. Other Privileges
  15. Personal Injury Law

(See pages 312-314 for the full list.)

Skills and Abilities

Out of more than 30 “skills and abilities” surveyed, recent law graduates ranked these as the 15 most important:

  1. Written Communication
  2. Paying Attention to Details
  3. Listening
  4. Oral Communication
  5. Professionalism
  6. Using Office Technologies (e.g. email and word processing)
  7. Critical Reading and Comprehension
  8. Synthesizing Facts and Law
  9. Legal Reasoning
  10. Organizational Skills
  11. Knowing When to Go Back and Ask Questions
  12. Interpersonal Skills
  13. Working Within Established Time Constraints
  14. Issue Spotting
  15. Decisiveness

(See page 314 for the full list.)

Given my interest in training technologically competent lawyers and my work with Casey Flaherty on his legal technology audit, I was especially delighted (though not terribly surprised) to see that number 6 on the list is “Using Office Technologies (e.g., email and word processing).”  Remarkably, it was ranked higher than “Legal Reasoning” and “Issue Spotting.”

We might debate whether “Office Technology” should be taught in law school rather than picked up in practice (as some of us discussed extensively in the comments to this earlier post), but it seems to me that young lawyers now need many technological competencies that weren’t necessary only a decade or two ago.  My own view is that law schools should ensure that their graduates have the necessary skillset to compete in a rapidly evolving and increasingly challenging legal marketplace, and teaching technological competence should be an important part of that effort.

The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education made a similar observation in its recently released final report:

Mismatch Between Curriculum and Goals. . . . [A]lthough changes in the delivery of legal services have made competence in the use and management of law-related technology important, only a modest number of law schools currently include developing this competence as part of the curriculum.
I expect that the “modest” number of schools offering training in this area is likely to increase overthe next few years.  In the meantime, law schools taking a lead in this area will give their students a competitive advantage.


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