Acquire Practical Skills During Law School

practicallawyerskillsIf you only take substantive law classes you will not acquire the practical skills necessary to make you a successful attorney.

At least fifty-percent of my day is spent talking to clients over the phone or in person—listening to their story and asking the right questions to figure out if I can help. When you meet clients in person, you need to learn how to actively listen—listen but also make sure the client stays on task and reveals the right information.

You also need to be able to talk in “normal people talk.” Clients do not want to hear a philosophical ramble, nor do they want to hear a lawyer talk in a language they do not understand. Clients want to hear and understand their options. Your client probably already knows you are smart, but they also want an attorney they feel comfortable dealing with. All the book smarts in the world will not help you there.

You can acquire these skills by taking skills classes during law school and by getting real experience. The most important law school class I took was Interviewing, Counseling, and Negotiating. The majority of the class was based around a fact scenario involving a landlord tenant issue. We had to interview the client, interview a witness, counsel our client as to their options, and then negotiate with opposing counsel. If your offers anything like this, take it, you will be amazed at how much it helps.

I also worked for the local Public Defender’s Office. Twice a week I was in jail, interviewing clients, negotiating with prosecutors, and representing clients in court. There are plenty of other jobs or internships that present the opportunity to interview, counsel, and represent clients.

It might seem daunting at first, but the skills you acquire will make you a better lawyer, and will make you a more attractive job candidate after law school.

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  • I take 90% skills classes, 10% substantive law classes. I agree completely with Randall. Skills classes are where it’s at.

  • Unfortunately many law schools don’t present this type of opportunity. However, take advantage of them when you can, I wish I had! I got to learn this stuff the hard way, on my own.

  • I agree, completely. And that is what I did. During my 2L year, I focused on writing intensive seminars and did an externship with a judge, in addition to rounding out my core substantive courses. My 3L year was almost entirely skill-based – student teaching, working for a firm, two clinics, a journal and a practical public policy course. It was a ton of work day-to-day, but I had no finals. Personally, I think law school should be 2 years of classes followed by a one year apprenticeship.