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Too much ado about BigLaw? City bar creates institute to train newbie lawyers for smaller practices

Posted Nov 18, 2013 6:44 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The New York City Bar Association is introducing new programs to help new lawyers transition to practice, including a City Bar New Lawyer Institute that would offer practical classes and mentoring opportunities over the course of a year.

The bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession announced the pilot programs in a report (PDF) that says typical continuing legal education classes aren’t the answer for new lawyers.

Of course, some CLE classes seek to bridge the gap from law school to practice, the report says. “But more often than not,” the report continues, “new lawyers treat CLE programs as classes to be taken out of necessity, not for their intrinsic value or ability to help develop a career.

“These classes typically are lecture-style, of uneven quality, involve little interaction, and have no substantive follow-up to assess the students’ retention of information. Moreover, many new lawyers take a series of unrelated classes, simply because they fulfill requirements necessary to maintain an active license and fit into the lawyers’ schedule.”

What’s needed, the report says, is a yearlong program that includes: substantive advice from experts in fields such as family law, wills and estates, and immigration; practical advice from practitioners on running a successful law practice; and practice-management training.

Toward that end, the task force announced the creation of the City Bar New Lawyer Institute, a pilot program that will offer a yearlong CLE curriculum for 2014 law grads. According to a post at the City Bar's 44th Street Blog, the institute is among several pilot programs to help prepare new lawyers.

Another pilot program—which is contingent on funding—would develop a new law firm for people of moderate means that would “enable new lawyers to address the unmet civil legal needs of the middle class while developing their own sustainable professional practices.” Other pilot programs would partner with employers to provide internships, and would review potential changes to the state bar exam. (The Chicago Bar Foundation's Justice Entrepreneurs Project launched a privately supported legal incubator Friday with similar aims.)

The moderate-means law firm would be staffed primarily with new lawyers who would receive training and supervision to provide legal services in areas such as family law, estate planning, contract drafting, disputes and small-business advice.

The new law firm is “an ambitious undertaking” that will need significant funding, the task force report says. “Despite the difficult job environment, there is a large unmet demand for legal services, especially among moderate-income households,” the report says. There “must be a cultural shift in the focus of the profession away from the limited number of ‘BigLaw’ opportunities and towards a wider range of sustainable career opportunities.”

Hat tip to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.).

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