What the next Generation of Lawyers needs to know

The Canadian Lawyer has published an interesting list of skills future lawyers should have:

  • “Public speaking skills OK, most students have some experience presenting materials during high school and university, but it is incredible the number of law graduates who are completely terrified of public speaking. There are always programs like Toastmasters that can help supplement this skill gap, but these are usually offered outside of the law school curriculum.
  • Technology skills Today, technology is fundamentally changing how lawyers practise law and conduct research. I would ensure that using legal technology tools, learning how to code and becoming familiar with technology would be critical components of the curriculum. Law students should also be taught how to leverage social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and other mediums to market themselves, their brand and to develop a solid network.
  • Entrepreneurial skills Many graduates will find themselves starting their own law firm, alone or in association with a few colleagues. Others will seek to use their technology skills to develop outstanding legal tools such as Blue J Legal, ROSS and Kira Systems that are changing how lawyers practise. Law students should be taught the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, so they can hit the ground running upon graduation regardless of what path they choose to pursue. 
  • Finance and budgeting I am tired of hearing that people go into law school because they are terrible at math. While it may be true for some, it is difficult to make such a sweeping generalization. Nevertheless, I believe teaching law students how to set a legal budget, how to account for and deal with contingencies, setting reserves, how to track spending, etc. is critical, as is being able to read and understand financial statements.
  • Project/contract/litigation management skills Managing external counsel, being able to account for the multiple stages of the litigation process and being able to lead and manage a change initiative for the legal department or as part of a team are important responsibilities of lawyers. Law students should be taught the fundamentals of project/contract and litigation management and other related skill sets.
  • Co-op Rather than articling once a law student completes their law schooling, I would ensure that a co-op program is provided, where students will be able to work with a not-for-profit, law firm or in-house department for credit for most if not all of the third year. This would eliminate the need for an articling program and will prevent the situation that we all know very well, which is “sleepwalking through the third year.” A good potential model would be something like Ryerson’s LPP program.
  • Mentorship I would also develop a mentorship program, where law students are matched with law school alumni from whatever area of legal practice they may be interested in: academic, not-for-profit, in-house, private practice, etc. This is critical, as it will help students develop networks, provide career guidance, etc. 
  • Social and networking skills Finally, there are important soft skills to be taught. Not all law students are familiar with skills such as knowing how to handle a formal dinner (for example, the BMW rule: bread plate, meal plate and water rule from left to right), although this is critical for on-campus interviews and making an impression on clients. Many students may also not have had previous experience working a room and networking, especially when surrounded by legal and other professionals.”