California Bar Pioneers Pre-Admission Competency Training for New Lawyers

New lawyers are facing significant hurdles to developing strong professional competency as economic conditions and client demand for experienced practitioners have usurped these developmental opportunities from recent graduates. This trend has had the effect of cannibalizing the legal profession by robbing young lawyers of the very work that teaches them how to be compliant of the competency requirements as laid out in ABA Rules of Professional Responsibility Rule 1.1.

California has decided to do something about it. The State Bar of California’s Board of Trustees has “charged the Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform (the “Task Force”) with “[e]xamin[ing] whether the State Bar of California should develop a regulatory requirement for a pre-admission competency training program, and if so, proposing such a program” for submission to the Supreme Court.” After studying this issue for a year, the Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform released a report on June 24, 2013.

The Task Force found that this problem stemmed from the gap between law school curriculum and the actual practice of law, coming from the fact that law schools focus on doctrinal teaching, which teaches students how to think like a lawyer, rather than classes teaching students how to act like a lawyer. At present, the Task Force is working on a final draft of its recommendation which “would require pre-admission competency training, a 50-hour pro-bono or low-bono requirement and enhanced post-admission practical skills training, with an additional 10 hours of mandatory continuing legal education for new lawyers.”

The pre-admission competency training could be achieved through practice-based experiential course work of fifteen hours or a bar-approved externship or clerkship, during or after finishing law school.  The course work would include “oral presentation and advocacy; counseling; law practice management and using technology in law practice; collaboration and project management; and practical writing.”

The pre-admission competency training is an innovative idea. The requirement of competency which “requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation” as laid out in the ABA Rules of Professional Responsibility Rule 1.1 is a fundamental rule that is now being undermined. State bars should take the initiative as California did to attempt to eliminate this deterrent to competency.

To read the Task Force’s report, click here.

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