New Attys Need Integrity, Common Sense Above Legal Skill via Law360

Posted on 08-02-2016 by
Tags: LIT , lawschool , Law school , Catapult Your Career

The article below has been republished in full courtesy of Law360, written by Kali Hays . 

Law360, New York (July 27, 2016, 3:31 PM ET) -- Considering about 40 percent of students that graduated law school last year have not found full-time jobs that call for a law license, according to the American Bar Association, it’s clear that becoming a lawyer takes more than pulling through years of expensive additional education and passing a bar exam.

What exactly it does take to become a lawyer, and a successful one at that, can be difficult to pin down, but a study carried out by the University of Denver’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System indicates that individual success may hinge on some basic characteristics.

In a project that began in 2014, IAALS received responses from more than 24,000 practicing attorneys in all 50 states working in various practice fields on what young lawyers need in the profession. A large majority of respondents identified integrity, work ethic, common sense and resilience as among the most important characteristics an attorney must display right away — traits that they don’t see often enough.

“The lawyers we surveyed were clear that characteristics (such as integrity and trustworthiness, conscientiousness, and common sense), as well as professional competencies (such as listening attentively, speaking and writing, and arriving on time), were far more important in brand new lawyers than legal skills,” the IAALS report said.

While these characteristics are not tailored specifically to the legal industry, their supposed absence in lawyers fresh out of school underscores the IAALS finding that less than 25 percent of practicing lawyers surveyed feel that new lawyers actually have what it takes to begin practicing, and that overall, “employers lack confidence in the preparation of law graduates.

While those surveyed still found more specific legal skills, like legal research, issue spotting and legal analysis, were also necessary for a new graduate to be successful, many view the technical side of things as “foundations” that can be acquired over time, making them less of a focus in hiring.

As commonly respected characteristics came through the surveys as very desirable in new lawyers, the IAALS study said it's clear that a “character quotient” should be developed in legal education right alongside an intelligence quotient.

“Successful lawyers are not merely legal technicians, nor are they merely cognitive powerhouses,” the IAALS report said. “New lawyers need some legal skills and require intelligence — indeed, 84% of respondents indicated that intelligence was necessary right away — but they are successful when they come to the job with a much broader blend of legal skills, professional competencies, and characteristics that comprise the whole lawyer.”

In order to close the gap between the skills and abilities young lawyers graduate with and what law firms and other legal employers want, the IAALS said law schools and employers have to work together to build educational and hiring models that have a specific “learning outcome” in mind.

“When law schools educate students toward learning outcomes developed with feedback from employers and employers hire based on what they say they want,” the IAALS report said, “we will see law school graduates with high character quotients who embody the whole lawyer, we will see the employment gap shrink, we will see clients who are served by the most competent lawyers the system can produce, and we will ultimately see public trust in our system expand.”

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