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Max Miller: Students Need to Learn to Become ‘Whole Lawyers’

Posted Oct 15, 2009 5:00 PM CDT
By Max Miller

Max Miller

The practice of law is a service industry, and yet the law school experience gives no substantive focus on the operations of a service industry, and more importantly, on what drives the value of a service in the marketplace.Put simply how do lawyers add value?

A value discussion cannot be had without looking at market structures and who’s driving demand and supply within those markets.

The pipeline of talent coming out of law school is coming into a market where, as a general matter, their skill sets cannot be effectively monetized for two to three years.

This is evidenced by shrinking summer associate classes, delayed employment for associates or even rescinded associate offers. [All of these are tactics to reduce the expense of employees who are not revenue-generating – not being monetized.]

A part of that dilution in the value of new graduates is our not having a system in place to equip new lawyers with the sensitivity to all the factors impacting their ability to be “whole lawyers” – to be more likely than not to contribute to the provision of value-added services. This “whole lawyer” is one who has a solid understanding of doctrinal law, but who overlays an understanding of the operating environment of her client in applying that knowledge. That environment is not only the business operations of the client, but its culture and the nature and the challenges within in the marketplace the client is facing.

Listen to a Q&A with Max Miller about the new Innovation Practice Institute.

How do we fix it? Law schools need to create a core curriculum that fosters immersion within a market space so students can understand the business landscapes around which their doctrinal legal knowledge can be applied.

Specifically, students need to learn to understand the changing economics of modern law practice (in the commercial space). With this knowledge, they can strategize their careers more effectively and engage with clients more effectively.

Students need to take a macro look at what’s happening in the legal services marketplace as well as a look at what is driving demand for legal services and how the supply/provision of legal services is reacting to these demands.

Ultimately, students should understand the value chain in the legal services industry and how lawyers can position their services to optimize their resources and to better serve clients.

Markets change and shift and invariably the goods and services for those markets much adjust. Law schools must equip students with the ability to adjust – that will be a critical to their ability to monetize their skill sets and to the survival of the profession.

Max Miller is director of Pitt Law’s Innovation Practice Institute. Miller also is managing director of Raise Your Spirits, an experiential marketing firm he founded. Before that, Miller worked in-house at H.J. Heinz Co. and later as a brand manager for the company.

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