Last week, I participated in a webinar with a panel of leaders in the law, including attorneys from private firms and corporations, CLE providers, and bar associations. The panel, brought together by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, discussed the future of legal education and how we should train the next generation of lawyers. We discussed what qualities characterize a good lawyer and how law schools can best prepare their students for their first legal jobs.
Though the panelists came from a variety of backgrounds, we all agreed that not only are the traditional skills of analytical thinking and problem-solving important, but so too are the “soft” skills – now more than ever. One panelist from the corporate sector stressed the importance of a lawyer’s ability to generate trust, which depends critically on their relationship-building skills. I emphasized the importance of resilience, self-possession, and civility. And now, more than ever, technology is rapidly changing how lawyers practice in a wide variety of ways. As law schools, we must consider how best to respond to this new reality and equip our students to be adaptable throughout the long arc of their careers.
One of the topics discussed was how best to transition students from law school to real-world practice. I am proud to say that at BU Law, we are thinking critically every day about how best to balance our traditional excellent training in analytical and theoretical thinking with the market demand for practice-ready lawyers. BU Law has been a national leader in developing experiential learning opportunities for our students throughout their three years, enabling them to obtain meaningful legal experience before beginning their first jobs.
In their first year, students participate in the 1L career conference where they hear from alumni practicing in a wide range of settings, including some non-traditional ones. After the conference, each student is paired with a Career Development Office advisor and faculty mentor. Together, the team works to help achieve the student’s educational and career goals. During intersession, we require all 1L students to participate in an intensive one-week “Lawyering Lab,” which helps students build basic skills like client counseling, negotiation, and contract drafting, through a simulated business transaction. And our Transactional Law program and externship (including Semester-in-Practice) and clinical offerings provide upper-class students with broad-ranging opportunities to gain hands-on legal experience that will serve them well in their future careers. The goal of all of these programs is not only to give students the opportunity to think about the different ways in which they can practice law, but also to help them evaluate their skill sets by identifying areas of expertise as well as those in need of improvement.
Indeed, we have heard from alumni and employers that mastery of certain basic business skills is one area in which new graduates from all law schools need to improve. In response, we have created an online business fundamentals program, covering topics like understanding financial statements, capital markets, and valuation of risk. All students must either “test out” of the course or complete it successfully in order to graduate.
Additionally, we believe that the future of legal education will feature more training in compliance and regulation. There is a significant demand in the US and abroad for lawyers with an understanding of the new compliance paradigm. We hope to offer our students the opportunity to learn the basic skills that will enable them to identify, analyze, and control compliance risks in various commercial and financial contexts.
In this ever-changing legal and education environment, we must continually strive to stay on top of the latest innovations, trends, and challenges so that we can give students of the law the skills they need to succeed from day one on the job. And we can only do this by continuing to value the deeply analytical and theoretical training we have always provided while also realizing the promise of our theme of “thinking forward” by creating even more innovative programs.