Law Firms Say Law Students Need to Step Up Their Critical Analysis and Basic Writing Skills, Be Practice Ready

The contraction in the legal sector (and most of the economy) since the collapse of Lehman Brothers at the end of 2008, combined with the thousands who went to law school in an attempt to wait out the recession, means there's been a glut of entry-level and junior lawyers on the market. Law schools have been churning out new lawyers, but are those lawyers attractive to law firms and other employers? Law firms have been stressing the need for law school graduates to be "practice ready," and law schools have been working on innovative, experiential programs to meet that need. But what does "practice ready" actually mean?

The DC Bar Association's Washington Lawyer magazine explores the issue in “Are We Listening?: Here’s How the Profession Can Advocate for Reforms in Legal Writing Education” by Catherine H. Finn, who teaches legal research and writing and advocacy at The George Washington University and the University of Baltimore, and Claudia Diamond, who directs the Introduction to Advocacy Program at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Part of the problem they uncover is that practice readiness means different things to different stakeholders in legal education.

In a survey of some 300 lawyer and judges in the DC area, Finn and Diamond found the two biggest problems practicing lawyers found in entry-level lawyers' readiness fell into the categories of critical reasoning and basic writing skills.

If you're a current law student, the message is clear: you need to beef up your legal writing, basic writing, legal research, persuasive writing, and legal analysis skills. Jump on every opportunity you can to build these foundational skills. And jump on every opportunity you can to prove to hiring attorneys that your skills pass muster. Some things you can do now to build your skill set, as well as your law student resume, include:

  • Join a law journal or moot court team

  • Publish a note or recent development in a law journal

  • Become a research assistant for a professor

  • Take legal practice skills courses

  • Seek summer opportunities that are research and writing intensive

  • Polish your writing samples