Lawyers Need “Soft Skills”—So Why Aren’t Law Schools Teaching Them?

There can be little doubt that law schools are largely proficient in teaching “hard skills” such as knowledge of the law, legal analysis, research, writing, and drafting. But what about “soft skills”—the general set of skills which influence how people interact, such as communication, leadership, critical thinking, confidence, team building, time management, creativity, public speaking, and problem solving, just to name a few? Most can agree that these skills are needed to be a successful lawyer, but we can also probably agree that they are not being taught in law school.
Other professions have been teaching and using these skills for some time while law schools have been slow to embrace them. Business and medicine are just two examples. If we agree that proficiency in these skills would not only make for happier clients but also more productive working relationships, why not make the teaching of these skills part of our curriculum? Perhaps some lawyers, professors, and students believe that you are either born with these skills or not—and that no specific training is needed to improve them. However, that is simply not true. Research proves that it is possible to develop these skills just as one can develop other skills. As noted in the ABA’s LawPractice Today, “[i]t is astounding that [soft skills] are not taught in law school, and that fact only serves to increase the responsibilities of law firms to create and implement training initiatives that focus on developing an attorney’s service-oriented skills… [a]nd so law firms have begun to teaching these skills—so why shouldn’t law schools?”
The question, of course is how to teach them. I, along with two of my colleagues, am working on a book aimed at bridging this gap by providing information law school professors can use to teach important skills—such as problem solving, creativity, and mindfulness, to their students. While some resources certainly exist, more are needed, along with the recognition of the importance of the skills and a willingness to teach them.

Lawyer Job Satisfaction and Comparing Downward

In law school, we learn about model answers, class ranking and, for lack of a better term, perfection. It usually seems to be about striving to perform better and comparing to others ahead of ourselves, no matter where we are placed – or place ourselves – in the ranking queue. Yet, along comes work by Nancy Levit and Doug Linder, two professors of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, who examined lawyer happiness. While many people think that money would have a huge impact on happiness, that apparently was just not accurate according to a reported study. But other factors mattered. What struck me about this exploration, in particular, was the finding that “comparing downward” was a good way to promote happiness.

The way I understand it, a downward comparison means to appreciate what we have and see the hundreds, thousands and more people who have less than we do, not those people/lawyers who have more. That would be comparing upward – to the friend at the more prestigious firm, the other friend who is ranked higher in six different categories at school, or to the person who just received the prestigious clerkship you applied for as well.

I know I compare upward quite a bit. I went to Harvard, but was not a top performer (no summa for me), did not get the top clerkship, job, etc. It actually is pragmatically useful, though, to recognize the advantages to comparing down. I really like and use a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that does indeed implicitly compare down:

 “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

This quote is posted in my office and at home, for good reason.

Journal of Experiential Learning Summaries By: Myra Berman

The second issue of Touro Law Center’s Journal of Experiential Learning will be uploaded online prior to the start of the Fall 2015 semester. This issue is devoted to incubator and residency programs and their contribution to legal education, particularly to the post-JD part of the educational continuum. The creator of the law school incubator movement, Fred Rooney of Touro Law, is the guest editor for this edition. Be sure to check the website, www.tourolaw.edu/jel for the latest uploads. Articles for the Incubator & Residency issue include

Incubator Development at Home and Abroad: Anecdotal Stories from the Trenches

Fred Rooney

Law School Based Incubators and Access to Justice – Perspectives from Deans

Patricia Salkin, Ellen Suni, Neils Schaumann and Mary Lu Bilek

Incubating Community Law Practices: A Model for Lawyer Training & Access to Law

Luz Herrera

Innovate, Collaborate, & Serve: Louisiana’s “LIFT” – A Legal Incubator and Accelerator Program Startup Guide

Amy Duncan

The Pro Bono Requirement in Incubator Programs: A Reflection on Structuring Pro Bono Work for Program Attorneys

Davida Finger

Creating a Post-Graduate Incubator Program through a Law School-Bar Association Partnership

Robyn L. Meadows, J. Palmer Lockard and Elizabeth G. Simcox

A Custom Tailored Form of Post-Graduate Legal Training: The Rhode Island Center for Justice

Robert McCreanor

Implementing Psychological Resilience Training in Law Incubators

Mark Heekin

An Examination of the Special Role Career Service Professionals Can Play in the Development and Success of Law School Incubator Programs

Sumana Wolk and Erica Edwards-Oneal

The third issue focuses on pre-JD experiential learning programs, many of which are pipeline programs offered by undergraduate institutions. The guest editor of that issue is Diana D. Juettner, J.D. Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. If you or a colleague would like to contribute, please contact Coordinating Editor, Associate Dean Myra Berman at mberman@tourolaw.edu.

Lawyers as Leaders

Leadership courses can prepare law students for the leadership roles they will assume as they serve their clients, law offices, and communities.

The University of Tennessee College of Law’s Institute for Professional Leadership offers courses and programming aimed at developing students’ leadership skills and professional values. Doug Blaze directs Tennessee’s program and has co-taught the course “Lawyers as Leaders” for several years. The course integrates readings on leadership, class discussions, and guest appearances by lawyers from various practices. Blaze says that students have described the course as “one of the most meaningful and valuable” courses that they took in law school.

Stanford Law School’s Deborah Rhode wrote the book Lawyers as Leaders and teaches a course titled “Law, Leadership, and Social Change.” Stanford’s course addresses the responsibilities and challenges of leaders and considers topics including: leadership styles, organizational dynamics, conflict management, innovation, diversity, and ethical responsibilities.

At Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, the Program on Law and Leadership consists of seven initiatives that “make leadership an integral part of the law school experience.” These initiatives include workshops, a speaker series, a dean’s roundtable, collaboration and partnerships, scholarships, a conversation series, and various courses. Ohio State’s “Lawyers as Leaders” class “is designed to help students understand the hallmarks of skillful leadership and management.” The course combines theory, case studies, and simulations.

Other schools with notable leadership programs and courses include Columbia Law School, Elon University School of Law, and University of Minnesota Law School.

These programs recognize that all lawyers need to be prepared for the leadership roles they will inevitably play in their personal and professional lives. Tennessee’s Doug Blaze says, “We want to prepare lawyers who will make a positive difference in the profession and in their communities.”

Law Students and Mindfulness Training

The Wall Street Journal recently featured a story on the growing movement among law schools to provide “mindfulness” training for students. The article describes mindfulness as “[a] Zen-inspired blend of meditation, breathing exercises and focus techniques.”

As noted in the WSJ article, University of Miami School of Law is one of approximately two dozen schools offering mindfulness classes. According to its course catalog, Miami’s course is titled Mindfulness in Law: Cultivating Tools for Effective Practice. The course description notes that two local bar associations have formed the “Mindfulness in Law Joint Task Force” to explore mindfulness in practice. In the course, students are introduced to mindfulness “as a collection of tools of awareness that can enrich one’s skill set in relationship to the stimulating and challenging aspects of legal practice.” The full course description can be accessed here.

The WSJ story is available here.

Why More States Should Not Jump on the Uniform Bar Exam Bandwagon

In May, New York became the 16th state—and by far the most prominent—to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam, the standardized licensing test for lawyers created and promoted by the National Conference of Bar Examiners..

With such an influential state on board, the UBE is now all the rage. New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman proclaimed in his announcement of the Court’s decision that it “will reverberate among the other states,” ultimately leading to adoption  of the UBE throughout the country. The president of the Florida Bar responded to the decision by predicting that the northeastern states will soon follow New York’s lead and also acknowledging that Florida will give accelerated consideration to the UBE. And UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky argued in an L.A. Times op-ed that California should join New York in adopting the UBE.

Before other states react to the reverberations by crowning the UBE as the predominant or sole bar exam in the nation, the entire uniform exam initiative merits closer scrutiny. To be sure, adoption of the UBE throughout the country would make law licenses much more portable for beginning lawyers recently out of law school. That is a worthy goal, but the UBE is a dubious and potentially damaging means for achieving the desirable end of greater interstate license portability, especially because there is a different and more benign way to achieve that end.

A comprehensive consideration of the UBE suggests to me five reasons why additional states should step back from the precipice and be very cautious about joining the UBE bandwagon.

I discuss my five reasons in greater length here and, without annotations, here. In sum, they are as follows:

  1. The UBE perpetuates a flawed bar exam and is fundamentally inconsistent with recent trends in legal education and the legal profession
  2. The UBE would represent a regressive change to the current bar exam in several state
  3. The advantage of having the National Conference set a singular scoring methodology for all bar exams is overstated
  4. National implementation of the UBE would decrease the chance of meaningful bar exam reform by taking power away from states and giving it to the National Conference
  5. There is another means for achieving license portability that has far fewer drawbacks than the UBE

The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is administered as roughly half of the bar exam in 49 states and is a very reliable test from a psychometric perspective. Why not allow applicants who achieve a passing score on the MBE on any jurisdiction’s bar exam to apply for admission to any other state without the necessity of taking the bar exam again? Minnesota, North Dakota, and the District of Columbia already permit this, and other states need only follow their example.

A state adopting this approach in lieu of the UBE would be giving full faith and credit to whatever the written portion of the exam is in the original jurisdiction instead of forcing applicants to take its written portion. Since most states scale the scores from their written tests to the MBE, the policy is psychometrically sound. In fact, in many cases, the written tests of the two states at issue would be very similar, and the only variable would be awareness of local law, which could be covered through a CLE program.

Instead of putting its energies into national adoption of the UBE, which would decrease the quality of the bar exam in many states and drastically reduce state autonomy and flexibility, the National Conference could simply push for more states to adopt the policy already maintained by Minnesota, North Dakota, and D.C. We already have a uniform bar exam, and the National Conference already has enough power.

(Some of my article expands on the astute observations made by Professor Dennis Honabach in a piece he wrote in the ABA journal Professional Lawyer last year. ABA members can retrieve full text here, or on Westlaw, it’s at 22 No. 2 Prof. Law. 43.)

NYT OP ED – Putting Lawyers where they are needed

In today’s New York Times, THERESA AMATO makes recommendations for addressing the justice-lawyer gap — that frustrating current reality in which United States citizens have tremendous legal needs but no lawyer to help while, at the same time,  American law schools graduate a supply of lawyers who need jobs and need to pay their school debt.

You can read her ideas here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 859 other followers

%d bloggers like this: