Practical legal training can be tedious, obviously. But is the pain and suffering really worth it, or is it just a compulsory waste of time for people who want to be actual lawyers?
The obvious answer here is that practical legal training is, in basically every jurisdiction, compulsory. Somewhere along the way you need to actually learn how to be a lawyer.
But is that what most courses or training systems offer?
I did articles of clerkship myself, and I’ve got to say that there isn’t really a comparison. I was 100% more equipped for practice than current lawyers coming out of the more university-style system.
The flip side is that some people had terrible experiences in articles, and so they didn’t get the same kind of kick start that I did.
What follows is an extract from my book, In Practice – Moving Beyond Law School Theory, where our main player – Andrew – is writing to his young protege about his view on the benefits, or otherwise, of practical legal training.
What do you think – is it a worthwhile endeavour, or just part of the cost of entry into the legal system?
If you want to play the audio of this chapter instead, you can do it:
Tedious and Cumbersome?
I gather you are finding your experience of Practical Legal Training tedious and cumbersome?
I am not too surprised, and so I sympathise with your situation. Although my brothers in the profession who formulate these courses do so with the best of intentions, it is quite apparent that the curriculum becomes polluted with the interests of academics and various pencil pushers who have probably never practised law, let alone met with a client or entered a Courtroom.
The result is that the course you presently undertake represents, at best, an extension of your University education. It is primarily academic, although seeks to provide you with some practical expertise so that you might not be completely useless to your employers (once you have an employer, that is).
Although I have touched on it previously, there are a number of distinguishing features between actual legal work and what you now do that I thought I would highlight, lest you subconsciously start to think that your current sanitised situation could represent what you have to look forward to.
The first primary difference is money. The fictitious clients in your course almost never call you up about your fee estimates (which you almost never have to provide them). They appear to have the ability and the will to “fight on principle” or some such nonsense.
You are never forced to account for the competing interests of the client’s immediate requirements which might not align with your firm’s requirement for you to get funds in your trust account before commencing anything. At no time do you have to confront and solve a client complaint regarding their bill, or confess to a partner that you spent 3 hours longer than was required on a job because you couldn’t get the client to shut up on the phone.
These are the realities of practice. Everything you do has to be guided by the fact that your firm needs to make money. If it doesn’t make money, then you are out of the job (one way or another). Personally I don’t think that’s greedy, like some people seem to think. Rather, it’s just pragmatism.
The next primary difference is the lack of marketing. In “training land”, your work simply flows in and you do it. In the real world, someone has had to fight to get that work in competition with a thousand other practitioners, many of whom cost less and are frequently just as competent (although not always). There is no qualm about telling your fictitious clients that they have no case, because they won’t call your supervising partner who is friends with their mother’s brother’s cousin, and abuse you to them telling them how incompetent you are while, back at the office, you are forced to defend a perfectly sound legal finding to your now irate partner. These relationship factors are absent in your training.
Next is the nature of facts. In your world at the moment, you get the facts and assume their completeness and accuracy. In the real world, you never get all the facts, and are frequently required to drag them out into the light for examination.
Situations change, answers change, documents reveal inconsistencies, and the list goes on. The practice of law is a moving feast, and any given matter might change from a gnat to a dragonfly to an elephant over the span of its existence.
Finally there is the pressure of time. Yes, your assignments have deadlines and due dates. But, within that confine, you can spend as much time as you wish on a particular project. You will not find that situation in law. What you will find is that a task will be required to be completed within an hour, and if you spend more than that you will have to account for it in some way. You will also find that just because you are finished, doesn’t meant the job is done. You need to factor in review, settlement, revision, and of course the time that the support staff “do mail” which, if missed, will result in an otherwise unnecessary walk to the post box.
Oh yes – I should mention the paper. There is lots, and lots, of paper that needs to be printed, sorted, filed and dealt with in some way.
These are but some of the many differences which I wanted to highlight in brief to you now, so your brain does not accept the fiction that is presented to you now. Over time you will start to identify more discrepancies for yourself, and no doubt we will discuss them further.
So, while you complete this “practical” course I would like to remind you, again, of the need for you to seek and retain a master who can more effectively guide you in the practicalities of the legal world than the course you now undertake could ever do.
If you are to be effective as a lawyer from day one, you will need to take your education far beyond what you now learn. I encourage you (again) to do so as soon as possible.
Is He Right?
Uncle Andrew might be old – but he doesn’t know everything. What do you think about this one – is he on the mark, or is he just being a pompous git?
Learn more about Thomas’ journey through his legal career, and pick up your copy of In Practice today.
In the meantime – Happy Lawyering!