Skills Classes: The Best Investment for Law Students?

If you’re currently in law school and focusing all of your coursework on bar exam subjects, you are likely missing out on any kind of hands on legal skills classes. A large percentage of law students surveyed in 2010 said law school did not prepare them to understand the needs of clients. Skills classes can help you come out of law school more prepared to practice law, and maybe even get a leg up on your competition.

Network with Established Attorneys

In many law schools, skills classes and clinics are taught by established attorneys. At my school, all of the litigation classes were taught by two experienced attorneys. This is a tremendous networking opportunity. If you form a strong relationship with your professor, he or she can help open doors for you down the line. You will also know more established members of your local bar when you graduate. This means that when you go to local bar events and your fellow classmates are all standing around talking to each other, you can approach your professor. This can lead to even more introductions.

Build Skills

This seems kind of obvious, but skills classes and clinics help you build everyday legal skills. You get hands on experience working on problems that you will see as a practicing attorney. Susan Gainen commented that someone she knew graduated law school with very little confidence as an attorney. With a few skills courses under your belt, you will hopefully be more confident when you hang that state bar admission on your wall. I took skills in witness interviews, client interactions, handling expert witnesses, and using demonstrative evidence. Of course I knew I wouldn’t be Denny Crane right when I graduated, but those skills courses helped me understand what to expect the first time I tackled these integral parts of practicing law.

Boost Your GPA

Rather than fighting your way through four hours of tax class each week, I strongly recommend a skills—based class. This is especially true if you know you don’t want to practice tax law, or family law, or whatever large course you think you need to take. Your bar preparation course will teach you what you need to know about these subjects for the exam. So don’t risk a bad grade in a very tough subject. Instead, take a skills class. The classes are smaller and in my experience this leads to better grades for everyone in the class.

Become More Attractive to Employers

If you’re looking for a job in a small or mid—sized firm, the prospect of training a new associate may not be an attractive one. But if you come to the job and you already know how to take a deposition or talk to an expert witness, that is one less thing the firm needs to spend time teaching you. You can play this up and really get a leg up on the competition.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cushinglibrary/3695802822/)

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  • Thank you, thank you for being one of the first to even reference skills courses in the “do they teach lawyering in law schools” discussion. Skills instructors dedicate their professional lives to bettering law students, instilling confidence and preparing them for practice.

  • Taking part in a clinic or externship is a good idea. If not, volunteering opportunities at a Legal Aid, P.D. Office or elsewhere are good. The key is trying to get that first actual experience on your resume so that you can leverage that when you apply for positions.

  • Almost every student who has ever taken a clinic or any of the dozens of skills courses now taught at most law schools will report that they profited from the experiences. (I know of just two students who actually failed-clinic-with-an-F for doing outrageous, irresponsible, and dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks stuff. Not pretty, and they deserved their Fs.)

    The tricky part of a clinic is that there is no place to hide. You cannot slink down in your seat and hide behind your laptop. You have to engage with clinic professors and staff, clients, courts, opposing counsel, and other random parties, sometimes to the tune of dozens of hours a week beyond your regular coursework. And, you can’t stop because you’ve taken on responsibility for a real, live client.

    If, after all of the hard work, you like what you’ve done, and you’ve gotten some traction with “lawyering skills,” it may be easier to see a path toward some kind of law practice.

    If, after all of your hard work, the idea of taking responsibility for a live client with actual problems gives you the shakes and makes you want to hide under your bed, say “Huzzah!” because you have found out something about yourself that should lead you to other kinds of work.

    If this is you, talk to your clinic professors to see if you can sort out the reasons for your distress. It might be that you had the most uncontrollable client ever to enter the clinic door, and you may not want to make a career decision based on an encounter with a wacko.

    Whatever the result, make sure that you check in with your career services office. The staff there will be delighted to help you find a new path.