18 Dec Lawyer Survey Suggests Law Education Lacks Basics For Creating Practice
In my national survey of lawyers the majority of respondents felt that their formal legal education had not prepared them for implementing legal theory in a business setting. Specifically, they felt they lacked the basics for creating a law practice as well as attracting and interacting with clients in order to develop their business and survive. While they indicate that some law schools are now spending time on the business side of practicing law, respondents also suggest these courses may not be deep enough, comprehensive enough, or given frequently enough.
The consensus is that a soon-to-be lawyer’s business experience needs to be early, hands on, including meeting with clients before the bar exam. It should also involve networking, volunteering, and joining business organizations while students are still attaining their formal legal education. Hands-on experience is necessary for learning communications skills, the psychology of how to interact with clients and the press, using persuasion, and implementing the law in a wide variety of social situations. One large benefit of doing this, and doing it early and often, is that it builds your confidence in a shorter period of time than otherwise. Attempting this later typically take you years of slogging through it all by yourself.
Dealing effectively with people, which is so necessary to your converting prospects to clients, often seems to be omitted from law school curriculum. When it is used, it seems it is often a one-semester course early on which is inadequate. A similar situation has occurred in medical schools where the schools have become aware that their medical students were totally ignorant of what to do in an intake interview with patients. As a result, some schools instituted a first-year course on doctor-patient communication. But now, slowly, the schools are discovering that this interpersonal skills and small talk interview course, with a workshop and peer feedback, needs to be required every year of medical school for both learning appropriate skills, gaining confidence in using them, and making them a habit. Being addressed only once early on is not particularly helpful long-term.
To paraphrase what one lawyer shared on this: Formal education (both undergraduate and graduate) taught me absolutely zero about promoting and presenting myself as an effective and authentic professional. Part of the problem is that when you are still in school, you do not yet fully realize the importance of professional marketing and of interacting with your client as a human being, not just a potential financial transaction. I have learned almost 100% of my promotion and self-presentation skills from other lawyers, other business owners, and family members. My confidence to begin to create profitable visibility and credibility for myself also began there. The upshot is that law school education as it currently stands may be completely useless, except for providing law theory, technical information, and cases. Everything that is worthwhile and works in the real world comes through post-academic experience, which is too bad.
If lawyers, in general, do not learn from their formal training how to market, interact with clients, and create and develop a business-like law practice, how do they work around that obstacle? Most said they did some self-study and figured it out on their own. They read business books and articles and tried to adapt the ideas of the authors to their practice. They realized and embraced the notion that everyone was in marketing and sales in some ways. They learned how to interact with clients from their friends and/or relatives who worked in retail or sales.
One lawyer had a B.A. in English with emphasis in journalism and creative writing that he found helpful to fill in the interpersonal skills’ gap. Another lawyer had an undergraduate degree in linguistics which helped him spot communication problems. And still another had involvement with the financial services business where he could see how to apply marketing mindsets to law practice with emphasis on being the values-based, trusted advisor.
While a formal law education cannot provide everything a practicing attorney will need, it certainly must, at the very least, lay the ground work for the basics lawyers will need to take their education on the road, to set up a practice and run it like a business, and then market and develop it in order to survive.
Dr. Signe Dayhoff