Law Schools Fail to Meet Client Requirements: Training Must Change

William B. Lytton, Senior Counsel of Dechert LLP and retired Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Tyco International Ltd., delivered the keynote address at a conference co-sponsored by the Atlantic Legal Foundation and the New York City Bar Center for Continuing Legal Education.

Mr. Lytton, who also has served as an Assistant United States Attorney and Deputy Special Counselor in the White House, titled his remarks The Need to Change the Way We Train Lawyers. The conference, which brought together a distinguished faculty and was moderated by Robert L. Haig, Partner in Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, focused on How to Reduce Corporate Litigation Costs and Still Win Your Case. Mr. Lytton and Mr. Haig are directors of the Atlantic Legal Foundation.

Mr. Lytton stated that most recent law graduates are professionally unqualified to engage in the practice of law due principally to the consequences of law school accrediting standards. He noted that several law schools have recognized the problem but that clinical programs are more of an afterthought rather than a fundamental commitment to train all law students in the practicalities and realities of counseling a client with real and complex issues.

Law schools, he said, are trying to figure out whether they should remain centers for scholarship and training law professors or whether they should be more like business schools, turning out practitioners who can hit the professional ground running.

Lytton suggests that the need for practical skills are most pronounced where a lawyer functions in a corporate context where the law may be hidden in thousands of pages of regulation and the line between a lawful decision and bad business judgment is not always clear. What today may be a dumb but legal decision may be viewed many years from now as not just dumb but illegal as well _ as perceptions and attitudes change, public and media pressure shift focus or intensify.
Lytton contends that law firms, corporate law departments, as well as government agencies, need to be more engaged in legal education since the product that the law schools turn out is not meeting our requirements.the viability of the law schools’ products is critical to the success of our enterprises and our customers _ the clients. Lawyer training needs a technical focus, he said, but also needs to be heavily geared to output issues such as what to do in tough, real world situations.

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