Note: Akshara Kannan was a completely great 2009 Brightleaf summer intern. We miss having her around. But here’s the next best thing: during the year, she will occasionally share her thoughts here on how contemporary legal education is preparing her for the changing world of legal employment.
When I began my summer internship at Brightleaf Corporation I had just survived the infamous 1L year of lawschool. I knew Rule 12(b)(6), res ipsa loquitor, and all of the other things 1Ls think make or break their careers. But most importantly, I knew that the economy would pick up by the time I graduated and I would be fine. How did I know this? When I entered law school, they said that 94% of their graduating class had a job within 9 months. The world needed lawyers and I was going to be one. After all, I got good grades, made the National Trial Team and I was in a Clinic. I had big dreams of running down a Manhattan street in my power suit on my way to some major law firm where I would work my way up the ranks. There was no reason for me to worry, right? Wrong.
I came out of my internship with a completely different frame of mind. The idea that I would need skills that law school didn’t give me had never crossed my mind before then. Didn’t they want us to be prepared for our future careers? How had I never heard about the inefficiencies of law firms? How did I not know about the economics of firms?
In trying to answer these questions, one professor came to mind. My 1L Property professor had been the only one who had taken the time to talk to us about things we would need to know. In the “Last Ten Minutes” we would discuss a variety of issues, from interviewing to billable hours. So, I went back and picked his brain one more time.
He had spent years working for a big law firm down in D.C. While he was there, he suggested document automation to his firm and oversaw the implementation. Now, he teaches his Estates class how to use the system to quickly make documents from templates. So, I asked him why other classes or even law firms never discuss that? He responded with another question. What was your major in undergrad? I immediately saw where he was going with this and quietly mumbled “political science.” And there it was. Most lawyers do not have a background in science and are not as receptive to the use of technology as a result.
He also explained that this was the same basic reason as to why many law firms are not managed well. The skills we use as lawyers do not always translate to management skills. Does it really make sense that the lawyer with the most billable hours should end up running the firm? As much as it pains me to admit it, probably not.
Lawyers and law schools need to reevaluate what is important in today’s legal world. The advancements in technology and changing business models are lost on most of us. If we don’t make an attempt to catch up, we will fall hopelessly behind on the curve.