Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cult of Personality

This morning, the following appeared in the NJ Law Journal Daily Briefing:

Law firms may not be known for innovation, but they look positively cutting edge next to law schools. That was the consensus among law firm leaders, professors and entrepreneurs attending the recent Leading Legal Innovation conference at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law. Among the topics on the table: Law schools are great at teaching students how to read a court decision, but they don't teach many of the skills needed to be a successful lawyer. Some schools recommend adding foundational competencies that cover teamwork, improved communications skills and strategic decision making. Others suggest teaching and screening for interpersonal skills.

I read this and the first thing I thought was why is this news? Everyone knows law school doesn't teach you shit other than "how to think like a lawyer." At least not the top law schools (I've heard rumors that some of the 'lower tier' schools do teach actual legal skills). And it isn't even shocking that the conference attendees (basically, the people new law grads work for) think new law grads lack interpersonal skills. Its really quite simple -- "law firm leaders, professors and entrepreneurs" think new law grads lack interpersonal skills probably because new law grads are chained to their fucking desks 12 fucking hours a day and don't have any opportunity to talk to anyone other than other new law grads. I've been there, I know. For my first two years out of law school, I rarely was given the opportunity to speak with partners; hell, I only ever saw them if (1) they were giving me new work or (2) I was turning in a completed assignment. There were a few social events where partners could be found, but the chance of actually speaking to them was minimal, mostly because the gunners (aka I-wanna-be-partner-by-the-time-I'm-30-even-if-I-have-to-give-up-sleep-and-lose-all-my-friends-and-never-take-vacation associates) would surround the partners like wolves circle sheep. There was no getting in unless you were blatantly an asshole and forced yourself upon the situation. And that is hardly an interpersonal skill. Besides, it was much more enjoyable to spend those precious few hours of freedom close to the bar with the other captives.

So, yeah, its no wonder people think new law grads don't have interpersonal skills. And "teaching and screening" for such skills won't help. Because I'm pretty fucking personable (even with the all the swearing), ask anyone, but you never would had known that had you been a partner at the firm I worked for. And that's because you probably never would have actually tried to talk to me, except perhaps about how I only billed 200 hours last month or how my memo lacked this or that or how you had dinner reservations with a client so I had to work late to get started on something you needed by morning (which you never actually needed by fucking morning and which you should have done yourself earlier in the day). Now, had you been an associate -- you would have gotten to know me because we would have had real conversations, like real people do in real life. Besides, the vast majority of my law school classmates were all very personable people, at least in law school. But I'm sure many of them were later found to be lacking in interpersonal skills precisely for the same reason I would have been.

Law schools probably do need a major makeover, and probably should do more to teach people how to be lawyers. But at the same time, the people who oversee this makeover should remember that all the interpersonal skills training in the world will do nothing to change perceptions of new law grads if the people they work for continue to treat them like cogs in some great wheel of commerce as opposed to free thinking individuals.

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