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ANALYSIS: Survey Grades Law Students’ Preparedness for Practice

Jan. 31, 2022, 10:00 AM

New lawyers should be better prepared for the broad range of tasks and interactions that they will face in daily practice, according to practicing attorneys responding to a Bloomberg Law first-of-its-kind survey. But there is less agreement among the different groups of respondents about who should be responsible for teaching soft skills and management skills: law schools, undergraduate colleges, or employers.

Bloomberg Law’s Law School Preparedness Survey recently asked 1,143 practicing attorneys and law school students, faculty, and librarians about the skills needed for practice and how well law schools prepared individuals to enter the legal profession.

Responses indicate that new attorneys would benefit from having more skills like client communications and interactions, professional writing, business development, leadership and management, and judgment and decision-making skills.

Client Interaction, Communication Top the List for Practicing Attorneys

Practicing attorneys were asked to identify what skills they wished they had learned before they began practicing, as well as which skills and knowledge (other than traditional legal research) would be helpful for new attorneys to be familiar with before they begin practicing.

The ability to effectively interact with clients is what’s needed. More than three-quarters of practicing attorney respondents reported that this skill would be helpful for new attorneys, although professional writing skills came in at a close second. And 55% reported that they wish they had learned how to interact with clients before they began practicing, followed by conflict management.

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Practicing Attorneys Weigh In on Strongest and Weakest Skills

The survey also asked practicing attorneys to rate the soft skills of the new attorneys entering the workplace, and not surprisingly, many of the same skills were identified.

New attorneys were rated lowest (combining slightly weak, weak, or very weak ratings) in leadership skills (65%) and client interactions (64%) by more than half of practicing attorney respondents. Networking, decision-making, judgment, and time management skills fared slightly better, but respondents reported room for improvement. “Strong” ratings (combining slightly strong, strong, and very strong ratings) were given to email skills (77%), critical thinking (68%), organizational skills (62%), and verbal communication skills (62%).

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Not Everyone Agrees on the Best Place to Teach Important Skills

There is no clear consensus among practicing attorneys, law school students, law school faculty, and librarians on where soft skills and management skills should be taught.

Forty-three percent of practicing attorney respondents reported that soft skills should be taught on the job and the remainder were almost evenly split, while 31% reported that these skills should be taught in college and 26% said that law school is best. By comparison, only 29% of law school students and 25% of law school faculty and librarians reported that soft skills should be taught on the job.

More than two-thirds (67%) of practicing attorneys and 56% of law school faculty and librarians also reported that management skills should be taught on the job. However, only 43% of law school students agreed, and more than half of the law school student respondents reported that management skills should be taught at either law school or the undergraduate level (27% and 29% respectively).

The overwhelming majority of survey respondents reported that research skills and writing skills should be taught before new lawyers enter the job market.

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Top Characteristics of a Successful Attorney

When asked what they consider to be the top three characteristics of a successful attorney, practicing attorneys and law school students agreed on two.

Practicing attorney respondents reported that judgment is the first characteristic of a successful attorney, followed, by communication (verbal and written) and self-management. Law school students reported that communication is the top characteristic, followed by research and self-management. Law school faculty and librarians also selected judgment, communication, research, and self-management as top characteristics, but likewise differed on the ranking of their respective top three.

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Interested in learning more about Bloomberg Law’s Law School Preparedness Survey? Stay tuned, as Bloomberg Law looks forward to sharing additional analysis and results.

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Related content is available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations and In Focus: Lawyer Development pages.

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