Incorporating Practical Skills into Law School Curriculums

Posted on September 10th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

Earlier this year we asked whether law schools are adequately developing their students’ practical and professional skills. [See Legal Fee Advisors’ publications: Are Law Schools Missing The Boat When It Comes To Training Lawyers:  How To Fairly Bill For Their Services?]. We also highlighted some of the limitations of, and alternatives to classroom learning. [It May be Time for the Two-year Law Degree]. As discussed in the latter article, law schools have responded to decreased enrollment and the demands of a changing market for legal services by offering accelerated two-year JD programs.  Law schools are also responding by altering curriculums to focus more heavily on externships and clinic education that develops students’ practical skills and fosters their business sensibilities.

A recent New York Times article by John Schwartz explored some of these initiatives[1]. For example, Michigan State’s Reinvent Law Laboratory focuses on entrepreneurship by holding a Shark Tank-style startup competition this past May. Some of the student-developed business pitches focused on providing outsourced services for larger law firms. The winning proposal featured a smartphone app offering on-demand legal services – connecting individuals and law firms with attorneys to fill in on short notice. Michigan State pairs such entrepreneurial competition with classroom training where students are introduced to software and services that automate tasks like document review making such tasks less labor-intensive and more cost-effective.

Brooklyn Law’s CUBE: Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, was designed as a similar initiative, to provide students with practical experience while providing legal support for New York’s commercial and not-for-profit startups. Externship programs place students in law firms, while supplementing that experience with lectures focusing on topics related to professional development. While, on-campus clinics are run like mini-law firms, requiring students to draft engagement letters, conduct conflict checks, and keep contemporaneous timesheets. Soon, law schools will figure out that most lawyers will need training on software that requires them to bill for services electronically, leaving paper bills behind, a trend that is no longer a trend but a reality for many companies and law firms.

Law schools are also supplementing their legal curriculums by offering business training. Brooklyn Law offers a Business Boot Camp. This course is taught by Deloitte consultants and modeled on law firm training on business and financial topics that Deloitte FAS has provided to first-year associates. The course teaches students the necessary vocabulary and skills needed to understand and implement clients’ objectives, and enable students to start their own businesses.

Such curriculum changes are a positive development for both students and the legal services market as a whole. Increasingly businesses are treating legal services as any other cost center, seeking lower costs and efficiencies. In such an environment both law schools and legal service providers will need to get leaner to remain competitive as the industry begins to compete more on cost. Preparing students for these realities, developing their business acumen and training them in practical skills like document review and electronic legal billing will only help move the legal services market, as a whole, to increased efficiency.

G. Gotimer
Legal Fee Advisors © 2014

[1] John Schwartz, This is Law School? (Aug. 1, 2014), THE NEW YORK TIMES,

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