Tips for New Lawyer Success

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Congratulations! You passed the Bar.  Maybe, you are hanging up a shingle (starting a solo practice).  Perhaps, you are joining a firm, a governmental agency, or a non-profit.  You might be fortunate enough to have landed a plum judicial clerkship. Don’t assume that you will do well there, initially.  Start at the top of your game.  

You can prepare for practice before you even start your new position.  This blog addresses:

  1. Law school did not prepare you for the actual practice of law, but you can still prepare on your own before you walk through the doors of your new job.  
  2. Although you may have written an appellate brief, you have not written letters, memos, motions, briefs, and other legal documents for the real world.   You can learn to write powerfully, in sound paragraphs, using IRAC, and in plain English.  And, you can learn now.      

I have taught or mentored hundreds of students who have completed pre-law courses, were law students, or new lawyers. Below are tips for success in a new practice.  Click here to review our legal writing course, Legal Writing Launch (LWL or Course), and see if our Course might assist you as a new lawyer. One new attorney, who took LWL, called it her “savior”   (View the introductory video, and access the actual contents of the Course under any of the Course levels—Basic Course, Assignment Editing, and Zoom Weekly Meeting [which includes Assignment Editing].) Students who had failed the Bar two and three times completed the Zoom Weekly Meeting level, and then passed the October 2020 California Bar!  (See more on the Course below.) Feel free to reach out to me at (415) 939-6460 to see if the Course is right for you.  

Below are tips for success in a new practice:     

  1. Law school did not prepare you for the actual practice of law, but you can still prepare on your own before you walk through the doors of your new job.  

    As difficult as it is to hear, law school did not prepare you to practice law.  In fact, law schools do not teach new lawyers how to practice law.[1]  New law school graduates are simply not “practice-ready.”[2]  One commentator went so far as to say that law schools are flooding the market with incompetent lawyers.[3]  Preeminent legal commentator, Bryan A. Garner, simply states “lawyers don’t write well and have no clue that they don’t.”[4]  According to Garner, lawyers “may only recognize their previous unskillfulness once they gain these skills.”  He further notes that this is particularly true for newly-licensed lawyers.[5]  Why the poor writing?  According to Garner, the blame falls mostly on law schools.  Professors provide students with “poorly-written, legalese-riddled opinions that read like over-the-top . . . parodies of stiffness and hyperformality.”[6]  And, law professors offer little if any feedback on writing in exams or assignments.[7]  Junior lawyers are neophytes, Garner believes, and are ready for an apprenticeship with a good mentor (may they be fortunate enough to find one) and not for the practice of law.[8]    

    Although some law schools may offer a clinic or two to prepare students for real-world practice, this training is not enough.  Many law schools do not actually require any training prior to a student’s seeking State Bar licensure.[9]  Students come to law school to be trained as lawyers, and not as academics.[10]  But, that is what law school does—trains students as academics.  One commentator criticized the academic community for its overemphasis on impractical scholarship and its unwillingness to teach students about the reality of law practice.”[11]  Why is it that a first-year moot court student drafts an appellate brief?  Why does that student participate in a moot court on that brief?  How many new lawyers will write appellate briefs right away?  How many will snag the plumb oral argument in the court of appeals on that brief?  Law school should focus upon the practical motions, memos, and letters that most new lawyers will write every day.  At the small firm level, the skill set needed to practice takes years to develop and refine.[12]  This is particularly disheartening with the recognition that the majority of lawyers in private practice are in solo practices or small firms.[13]  The bottom line is: there is a need for competent new lawyers who can enter practice, thinking and writing critically; yet, there is a noted lack of these skills in modern law-school graduates.[14]  Unfortunately, new associates often find themselves ill-prepared for the rigorous practice and demands at their law firms.[15]   

    There have been calls to “ditch” the entire third year of law school, and make it more like a medical school with rotations through different areas of practice.[16]  One commentator suggests that there should be higher degrees of clinical and practical concentrations as one moves closer to practice.[17]  Another author believes that law schools should integrate practical and doctrinal training throughout the curriculum.[18]  Specifically, the last commentator states that professors should elevate skills training to a position of greater parity with doctrinal classes—and frankly, these changes are long past due.[19]
  2. Although you may have written an appellate brief, you have not written letters, memos, motions, briefs, and other legal documents for the real world.   You can learn to write powerfully, in sound paragraphs, using IRAC, and in plain English.  And, you can learn now.      

    Become a clear thinker and clear writer, and learn the writing skills of the trade.  “The dependence of good writing on good thinking cannot be overemphasized.”[20]  Stated slightly differently, students who write unclearly think unclearly.[21]  Law is essentially a trade and is based upon flawless writing, logical reasoning, and persuasive argumentation.[22]  Not coincidentally, these three skills make up the trivium, the classical and medieval curriculum of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, which formed the basis of legal education for centuries.[23]

    How can new lawyers develop logic and writing skills in which they may be deficient? And quickly? Consider taking one of the legal writing courses for attorneys. There are many good legal writing courses available online.  Billionaire investor Warren Buffet states, “[b]y far the best investment you can make is in yourself.”  [24]  Buffett added that  developing one’s communication skills—both in writing and in-person—”can increase [one’s] value by at least fifty percent.” [25] 

    Our course, LWL, is a great choice because the Course includes the option for live instructor feedback, is self-paced, and is available on-line with easy-to-use educational technology. One commentator noted that students should harness educational technologies to develop some of the basic skills necessary for law school.[26] LWL is an intensive legal writing course where students will learn to draft power-packed paragraphs™ using the legal reasoning structure taught in law school—Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion, commonly known as IRAC. Another commentator has discussed the value of the Core Grammar for Lawyers‘ on-line platform to prepare students for their first year of law school.[27] LWL offers Core Grammar as part of its focus in ensuring that pre-law students, law students, and lawyers know the fundamentals of grammar.      

[1]  Dolan, Opportunity Lost: How Law School Disappoints Law Students, the Public, and the Legal Profession (Opportunity Lost) (2007) From the Selected Works of James M. Dolin, 2, https://works.bepress.com/jason_dolin/1/

[2] Flanagan, The Kids Aren’t Alright: Rethinking the Law Students Skills Deficit (Kids Aren’t Alright) (2015) Brigham Young Univ. Educ. And Law Journal 136, 181. https://scholarship.law.umassd.edu/fac_pubs/90/

[3]  Opportunity Lost, supra, at p. 1.

[4] Garner, Why Lawyers Can’t Write (Why Lawyers Can’t Write) 1, 1.  https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/why_lawyers_cant_write

[5] Why Lawyers Can’t Write, supra, p. 2.

[6] Why Lawyers Can’t Write, supra, p. 2.

[7] Why Lawyers Can’t Write, supra, p. 2.

[8] Why Lawyers Can’t Write, supra, p. 3.

[9] Opportunity Lost, supra, p. 9.

[10] Opportunity Lost, supra, p. 9.

[11] Uphoff, Clark, & Monahan, Preparing the New Law Graduate to Practice Law: A View from the Trenches (Preparing the New Law Graduate) (1997) University of Missouri School of Law Scholarship Repository 380, 387. https://scholarship.law.missouri.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1383&context=facpubs

[12] Opportunity Lost, supra, p. 13.

[13] Preparing the New Law Graduate, supra, p. 409. 

[14] Viatar, Adams & Reese, Legal Education’s Perfect Storm: Law Students’ Poor Writing and Legal Analysis Skills Collide with Dismal Employment Prospects, Creating the Urge to Reconfigure the First-Year Curriculum (Legal Education’s Perfect Storm) (2012) 61 Cath. U. L Rev. 735, 742, n. 26. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2142812#:~:text=Legal%20Education%27s%20Perfect%20Storm%3A%20Law%20Students%27%20Poor%20Writing,the%20Urgent%20Need%20to%20Reconfigure%20the%20First-Year%20Curriculum

[15] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, p. 4. 

[16] Opportunity Lost, supra, p. 17. 

[17] Opportunity Lost, supra, p. 18. 

[18] Opportunity Lost, supra, p. 18.

[19] Opportunity Lost, supra, p. 18.

[20] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, p. 741. 

[21] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, p. 742, n. 26. 

[22] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, pp. 755-756. 

[23] Legal Education’s Perfect Storm, supra, pp. 755-756.

[24]  Warren Buffet Says This 1 Investment Decision Will Be By Far the Best One You Ever Make, Inc.com (Jan. 2021).  

https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/warren-buffett-says-this-1-investment-decision-will-by-far-be-best-youll-ever-make.html#:~:text=In%20a%202019%20interview%20with,by%20at%20least%2050%20percent.%22

[25]  Warren Buffet Says This 1 Investment Decision Will Be By Far the Best One You Ever Make, supra. 

https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/warren-buffett-says-this-1-investment-decision-will-by-far-be-best-youll-ever-make.html#:~:text=In%20a%202019%20interview%20with,by%20at%20least%2050%20percent.%22

[26] Kids Aren’t Alright, supra, at p. 182.

[27] Kids Aren’t Alright, supra, at p. 182 and https://www.coregrammarforlawyers.com/

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