There’s been much written about how law grads are ill-prepared for the practice of law and that the practice of law itself is changing by the day, increasingly requiring competencies beyond traditional legal analysis. Although clinics and practice-skill courses have multiplied within law schools over the past couple decades, many industry observers have noted that law school graduates lack the “soft skills” required for productive interaction with clients – communication skills, listening skills, empathy skills, and leadership and decision-making skills.
A number of law schools have heard the critiques and are creating educational programs geared to help practitioners develop such skills. While still the dean of Harvard Law School, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan asked Ashish Nanda, who had been teaching at the Harvard Business School, to join the law school and develop a unique executive education program geared to infuse practicing lawyers with the business skills needed to be effective managers of their law firms, their employees and their clients.
Since 2007, the Harvard model of executive education has grown, and as recently reported in the National Law Journal, is being replicated by other schools, including Georgetown and University of California Irvine. The article cites a substantial demand for education programs directed to lawyers that focus on subjects such as problem-solving, decision-making, communications, leadership, project management, team dynamics, strategic planning, emotional intelligence, self-coaching, organizational behavior, and financial analysis. These programs carry a hefty price tag of $12,500 to $15,000 for a multiple day workshop.
If we are emulating business school education for legal practitioners, maybe we should take a peek at decisions earlier downstream. Prospective M.B.A. students are being tested for emotional intelligence skills. As discussed in a Wall Street Journal article earlier this month, several business schools, including University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and MIT Sloan School of Management, are screening applicants for personal skills found in successful graduates, including leadership, empathy and relationship-building. “Companies select for top talent with assessments like this,” Andrew Sama, senior associate director of M.B.A. admissions at Mendoza is quoted as saying. “If we are selecting for future business leaders, why shouldn’t we be [using] similar tools?”
Since law schools are selecting for future leaders in the field and practice of law, should some modification of the selection process à la the business school model be utilized?
By continuing to rely on GPA and LSAT scores as the primary gatekeepers of law school admission, we are selecting for logical thinkers and test-takers. Note that the LSAT measures acquired reading, verbal reasoning and analytical thinking skills. Therefore, there is no surprise that lawyers showed a marked preference for Thinking over Feeling in a study employing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Of course we lawyers need to be logical thinkers—as a necessary but not sufficient condition to career success. If it is becoming increasingly clear that successful lawyers need these emotional intelligence skills, why create an educational after-market rather than teaching such topics during law school or even seeking to admit individuals who have already developed or possess some of these talents naturally?
It appears that some law school admissions officers are looking beyond the scores–but primarily because the number of applicants is dramatically down. The current admissions officer at my alma mater, University of Michigan Law School, was recently quoted in the ABA Journal as admitting that she is very cognizant of the fact that there are fewer applicants with high scores in the shrinking applicant pool. Thus, she explains, admissions officers are looking beyond the scores. “I think we are choosing substance over LSATs”, Sarah Zearfoss said. She went on to explain that focusing only on scores is “not fair to the individual [and] not fair to the institution.”
What is the “substance” being focused on, exactly? Is there a correlation with the traits found in successful lawyers or identified as needed by the legal marketplace in this post-information age world? How do you feel?