NYSBA Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession Report

The New York State Bar Association released the report from the Task Force on the Future of The Legal Profession last week.  While the report covers a broad range of topics, the topics of interest here concern Educating and Training New Lawyers which includes: new assessment and training techniques, preparing students to practice, and helping lawyers form a professional identity.

It is understood that the requirements of the Bar and the curriculum in law schools must align, but there is a growing concern that the Bar should also meet the requirements of practice.  Today, almost every law school has some clinical programs. The Bar exam, however, does little to test practical areas of the law but instead seem to rely on mandatory CLE to aid new attorneys in their transition to practice.  This discussion is just beginning, but the NYSBA should be involved in discussions with practitioners who have trained new attorneys to develop a plan to prepare and assess new attorneys. 

In order to create an adequate training curriculum, traditional learning may have to be sacrificed to some degree.  As it stands, the New York Court of Appeals requires that not more than 20 hours of law school work can be spent in clinical courses.  While there is no doubt that traditional law school classes are important, there are aspects of professionalism that must be learned in a practical setting.  If the courts are complaining about the professionalism of new attorneys, which they occasionally do, then it is imperative that a more lenient rule apply for skills courses or that certain skills courses be mandatory.  The strict limitation does have a draw back: stigma.  Even if twenty hours is enough time to properly develop a professional identity, most students are not going to take the full amount under the mistaken conclusion that such courses are not valuable.  To that end, Capstone courses should be encouraged.  Capstones have been discussed on this blog in the past, and such courses would go a long way toward integrating practice and traditional coursework. 

In order to be successful at recrafting the Court of Appeals’ rules, the Taskforce also endorses that the NYSBA participate in the Model Competencies Project which continues the work of the MacCrate Commission.  The goal is to understand the blend of skills and values and determining what is “practice-ready” for new attorneys. 

One of the recent developments in Bar requirements nationwide has been mandatory mentoring, which this blog has posted about in the past (here and here).  The Taskforce finds that such programs should be explored in New York based upon the success in Utah, Georgia and South Carolina.

Overall, the Taskforce Report is a call for the NYSBA to adopt new standards that will create lawyers that are better prepared to practice.  The ideas stem from Best Practices, The MacCrate Report and Carnegie, so they are not necessarily new ideas, but they are concepts that are gaining tractions elsewhere.  By pooling the resources of law firms and academicians, the NYSBA will be able to craft rules that provide students with the needed skills to be valuable to employers.

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