Law Students Should Take Practical Skill Classes

This is not the first time I’ve blabbed about the importance of law students acquiring practical skills during law school. One way is to get out in the world and develop your lawyer skills through actual experience.

If you prefer to stay in the confines of your law school, then take practical skill classes to jumpstart the development of your lawyer skills.

99% of lawyer skills are learned after law school

That’s a pretty common statistic thrown out by practicing attorneys. I don’t think the percentage is accurate, but I do think the concept is spot on. Substantive law classes don’t teach you how to talk to a client, file anything with a court, deal with opposing counsel, etc. Finding the right mentor can help you acquire those skills after law school, but would’t you rather have at least some baseline knowledge?

Like anything else, law-talking skills get better with practice and experience. It’s not realistic to walk out of law school with the same legal skills as someone who has been practicing for years. At the same time, there is a big difference between a law school graduate who has focused on acquiring practical skills during law school versus the graduate who only took substantive classes. By most accounts, the former is more highly regarded than the latter. If you only need to learn 92% of your skills after law school, you are ahead of the pack.

Practical skill classes are more work, more instructive, and more fun

In early January, I was one of eight adjunct instructors for a one-week, 40-hour intensive practical skills class at a local law school. The class was one giant simulation that involved researching, negotiating, and drafting a complicated business deal between two parties. By all accounts, the class was an overwhelming success. Many of the students said it was the most work they had ever put into a class. Many students also said it was their best law school experience to date.

For one, law students get to walk and talk like a lawyer in most practical skills class. That is far cry from reading and regurgitating case law. Two, practical skill classes are designed around teaching skills to law students, not just teaching the substantive law of a particular area. Practical skills translate across all areas of law, whereas substantive knowledge is more restricted.

Three, practical simulations are usually pretty fun for law students. Some of the simulations are more daunting than others, but it is a chance to experiment in the sandbox. Do you really want your first “real” deposition to be your first deposition?┬áLastly, most practical skills classes are taught by, or heavily involve adjunct professors. They might not tenured faculty, but they are practicing attorneys willing to pass on their practical knowledge. Don’t underestimate the value of that.

Next semester, take a pass on Con Law Part Four, and take a practical skills class. You might even like it.



  1. Avatar Adam Lilly says:

    I wish I had taken advantage of the practical offerings from my law school, but didn’t for a few reasons: I was taking substantive courses trying to narrow down what type of law I wanted to practice; the classes I knew I wanted to take always conflicted with the practical classes; and the practical classes were often 2 semester commitments or 8+ credit hour classes which consumed too much of the schedule.

    Ultimately, I feel like I got a decent foundation in law school to make use of interning I did during law school and summers and the volunteering I did afterwards, where I learned about actually practicing. I do think that I should have worked at least one clinic or practicum in, but at the same time I’m glad that I got exposure to so many practice areas while I had the chance.

    • Avatar Randall R. says:

      I think the upside of practical skill classes, compared to substantive classes, is that they translate into every practice area. Substantive classes certainly have their place, but many students neglect practical skill classes, clinics, externships, etc., and graduate with very limited lawyer skills.

  2. Clinics and public speaking/argument classes should be mandatory in law school. Legal theory is crucial but the practice of law can’t be ignored. Legal writing, research, and yes, Bluebooking, should be emphasized a lot more than they currently are. Being an advocate is a lawyer’s job, and on this count, most law schools fail miserably.

  3. Avatar Susan G. says:

    Great post!

    This is the scariest sentence — “Do you want your first “real” deposition to be your first deposition?” It was for me, and I urge you to avoid walking down that path.

    Because you can’t take every class at school, one way to begin to evaluate substantive areas of law is to take CLE, which is free for law students (or incredibly cheap). There is Minnesota grad who used three months of CLE, taking everything offered in Hennepin County, to make a career switch decision. She evaluated the substance (interesting, challenging, boring), and she carefully observed the lawyers’ behavior to one another and to her.

    For the practice that she picked (Trusts and Estates), the lawyers were polite to one another and they were welcoming to her.

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