The vast majority of junior attorneys will agree that when they graduated from law school and began practicing, they had no idea what they were doing. Law school prepares you to take exams, fire back at Socratic-method questioning, and learn how to survive without doing 50 percent of your assigned reading. By the third year, you’ve pretty much mastered it—just in time for you to enter the big, bad world of legal practice and realize that in fact, law school prepared you for very little of what you will actually do as an attorney. (Not to mention the fact that law school courses focus mainly on litigation; junior transactional attorneys wonder what they learned at all that was relevant to deal work.)
Enter the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program at the University of New Hampshire Law School, which for the last ten years has been training students to take depositions, interview clients, and argue in court, among other real-life lawyer skills. Students enter as 2Ls, and 120 of them have graduated from the program since 2008. They are assessed through simulations with real judges and hired actors and receive regular feedback on their performance from their professors, who also guide them through self-assessments.
The result, according to a new study led by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver, is that Daniel Webster Scholars are better prepared to practice law—before they even graduate—than first- and second-year attorneys who did not graduate from the program. According to The Wall Street Journal:
The study compared the standardized client-interview assessments of 123 lawyers who didn’t graduate from the program with the assessments of 69 of the honors students. Daniel Webster scholars scored an average of 3.76 out of 5, compared with an average of 3.11 for the lawyers.
This “statistically significant” difference presents a strong case for a program like the Daniel Webster Scholars, which focuses on hands-on training instead of lectures and intense doctrinal study. Many law schools do offer a myriad of clinical courses, but those are only one year or one semester long and constitute less than a full course load. It can be very difficult for the average law student bogged down by loads of reading and lecture preparation to fit in practice-oriented extra-curriculars like moot court and ADR competitions. Increasing the amount of experiential coursework seems to be the answer if law schools want to send their graduates into the world with more preparation and less anxiety. UNH Law’s program is focused on litigation skills; programs that trained law students in transactional skills could be equally successful in churning out better-prepared transactional lawyers.
Maybe firms would chip in to foot the bill for more practice-oriented courses; it could ultimately save them thousands, if not millions of dollars they spend on training new lawyers every year. Until more programs like the Daniel Webster Scholars become available to them law students will just have to hope that their employer offers solid training and mentoring programs. Click here to see Vault’s Best Law Firms for Formal Training and Best Law Firms for Informal Training, Mentoring & Sponsorship.
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