Four subjects that should be taught in law school

Between three years of intense study, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, and 12 weeks of grueling prep for the bar, you’d think law students are ready to practice. We don’t — not even by a mile. One of the recent changes in legal education has been the inclusion of more “practical” courses – in the hope of helping future lawyers develop the skills they will need in their daily lives in addition to the subjects that students will study for the bar exam.

That being said, adding more demands to already overstretched students doesn’t make the situation any better, it just gives them more to worry about. Perhaps the scales of “practical vs. needed for the exam” should evolve further towards the use of practical classes – after all, a good bar prep program covers all the topics you need; even if the rule against perpetuities isn’t something you covered in class.

Below are four subjects that, if taught in law school, would make life much easier for everyone.

  1. Understand the hierarchy of a law firm, including the differences between a partner, partner and senior partner; learn to effectively prioritize the missions of the different partners; how to collaborate properly with an administrative assistant; how to bill your time; what to wear for various law firm mixers; etc
  2. Email label. You’d be surprised how many lawyers don’t know how to send an email, or at least an understandable email. One of the hardest things about transitioning into the professional workforce (in any capacity) is learning the messaging habits of your new workplace. Are after-hours messages allowed? Do people set an automatic “out of office” response? If not, do they still respond to emails when on PTO or on vacation? How to identify the communication culture? One of the biggest differences (that I’ve seen) between younger and older lawyers is in the use of punctuation: younger lawyers tend to use exclamation marks and periods- commas. As my boss once said, “Exclamation marks have no place in a professional email. Period.” I disagree – maybe we’re just happy to be here!
  3. Contract drafting. Fortunately, many law schools have a course to teach students the basics of drafting contracts, but the material just isn’t comprehensive enough. These courses should cover topics such as: when is it acceptable to use the other party’s paper instead of our own? How do I add a red line in Word, DocuSign and other contract management software? How do you respond to an opposing party that strongly opposes (and/or categorically refuses to include) our changes? What types of contracts present the most risk and why? And most importantly: how do I determine my company’s risk tolerance level when it comes to procurement?
  4. How to take advantage of professional membership and organizational resources. Whatever type of law you practice, your state and/or local bar likely has the resources to support you. To be honest, there aren’t as many practical benefits to joining these associations in law school: yes, you can participate in various CLEs to determine if the field you plan to practice is right for you; and yes, you can enroll in a mentorship program if it’s available – but once you transition to a licensed attorney, those associations become exponentially more valuable. Law societies often offer on-demand CLEs, networking events, practice area resources, state legislative updates, and even discounts on frequently used legal software. Students should be made aware of these many benefits as early as possible in the legal education process, as they can often qualify for discounted membership and potentially nice (and handy) freebies.

The law school, like any academic institution, has room for improvement. Although significant progress has been made in recent years, lawyers and law students have called for increased attention to the practical aspects of the legal profession. If you think of law school as a kind of trade school, what’s the point of paying all those tuition fees and graduating unable to do your job?

Nancy I. Romero