Practicing lawyers have been tapped by a task force of the New York City Bar Association to be change agents in Developing Legal Careers and Delivering Justice in the 21st Century also the name of the task force report. As has been detailed in a myriad of reports studying the issue, including one by the Illinois State Bar Association, the NY Bar Report recounts the many profound and permanent changes affecting the education of lawyers, the practice of law, and the delivery of legal services. The hundred-plus page report is an interesting read on many fronts, including the several initiatives calling on the practicing bar to become involved in programmatic solutions that will be rolled out post haste.
The Report finds, in part, that education and professional development of lawyers doesn’t end at law school graduation. Graduation, rather, is only the beginning of the education experience. Seasoned members of the profession should therefore invest in newer lawyers through mentoring, networking, and skill development.
In addition to calling for more formal and informal mentoring by seasoned attorneys, the Report points out the need for a more structured curriculum of post-law school CLE courses. Criticizing the likelihood that traditional CLE courses will provide the experiences and expertise necessary for lawyers to develop successful careers, the authors note that “more often than not, new lawyers treat CLE programs as classes to be taken out of necessity, not for their intrinsic value or ability to help develop a career…[and] many new lawyers take a series of unrelated classes, simply because they fulfill requirements necessary to maintain an active license and fit into the lawyers’ schedule.”
To address this dilemma, beginning in the summer of 2014, the New York City Bar Association will establish a “New Lawyer Institute” to prepare law graduates to become successful practitioners in New York. The NLI will have four major components including: an introductory event and orientation, a professional development curriculum, career development programming and a professional networking and speaker series. Through the Institute, participants will have an opportunity to earn all of the 32 CLE credits they must earn in the first two years of practice. The Report contains details about each of the components, all of which will require a rich array of volunteer attorneys to teach, counsel and mentor new lawyers.
The Report also reveals an initiative designed to address the paradox of the supposed over-supply of attorneys and the tens of millions of Americans with important unmet legal needs. After discussing research concerning the legal needs of people of moderate means and unsuccessful past solutions to the issue, the Report announces a pilot program to “design and test a mission-driven, commercial business model to deliver a defined set of legal services to people who can afford to pay something, but who do not have practical access at the present time to such services at an affordable rate.” This scalable business model will enable new lawyers to address the unmet legal needs of people of moderate means while developing their own sustainable professional practices.
As I’ve written previously, this concept is well underway in the Illinois Justice Entrepreneur Project. It is nice to see another non-law school incubator platform for the training of new lawyers to innovatively deliver legal services. The benefits to our new lawyer entrepreneurs, to our new clients, and to society are going to be bountiful.