Seeking data about how to make law-school graduates more practice-ready, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System conducted its “Foundations for Practice” survey in 2014-15.  More than 24,000 lawyers in the U.S. participated.

The lawyers rated the importance of 147 skills, competencies, and traits (called “foundations”) in one of four ways:

(1)  “Necessary immediately for the new lawyer’s success in the short term” (where “new lawyer” was defined as “someone embarking on their first year of law-related work”);

(2) “Not necessary in the short term but must be acquired for the lawyer’s continued success over time;”

(3)  Not necessary at any point but advantageous to the lawyer’s success;” or

(4) “Not relevant to success.”

According to the survey results, “only 23% of practicing lawyers believe new graduates have the right skills to enter the profession.”  That quote is worth re-reading.

Below is a sampling of 25 “foundations” that at least 66.66% (two-thirds) of the lawyers found “necessary immediately for the new lawyer’s success . . . ” (i.e., right out of law school).

To make my list easier to read, I created two loose categories: (1) Job-Related Skills and (2) Personal Traits.

25 Skills & Traits at Least 66.66% Lawyers Rated “Needed immediately”

a.  Job-Related Skills (no particular order)

  • Maintain high quality work product
  • Effectively research the law
  • Write in professional manner
  • Speak in professional manner
  • Identify relevant facts, legal issues, gaps…
  • Adapt work habits to meet demands
  • Draft pleadings, motions, briefs
  • Prioritize/manage multiple tasks
  • Team work
  • Promptly respond to inquiries/requests
  • Take ownership
  • Arrive on time (meetings, appointments, hearings)
  • Document and organize a case or matter

b.  Personal Traits (no particular order)

  • Strong work ethic
  • Attention to detail
  • Seek and be responsive to feedback
  • Diligence
  • Listen attentively and respectfully
  • Show initiative
  • Honor commitments
  • Conscientiousness
  • Exhibit Tact/Diplomacy
  • Regulate emotions/demonstrate self-control
  • Take responsibility for actions/results
  • Treat others with courtesy/respect

My list is meant only to inspire curiosity; there’s a lot more to the data and report (links are below).

For example, at least 50% of the lawyers rated 77 “foundations” as “necessary immediately for the new lawyer’s success . . . .”  Among the many interesting ones are–

  • Work autonomously
  • Resourcefulness
  • Perceptiveness
  • Patience
  • Self-awareness (strengths, weaknesses, boundaries, etc.)
  • Intellectual Curiosity

The “foundations” were divided into 15 categories: e.g., Communication, Legal Thinking & Application, Professionalism, Transaction Practice . . . .  Some survey results address categories.

Thanks to the Legal Skills Prof Blog and the ABA Bar Leader for posting about the survey.

Survey-Related Links:

Pdf of Survey Data Report

Copy of Survey Questions

Methodological Approach

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Deborah Cupples

Deborah Cupples is a Master Legal Skills Professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, where she teaches legal drafting. She has also taught courses in statutory interpretation and drafting, constitutional interpretation and revision (Florida), and art law. Her expertise lies in legal-document drafting (primarily contracts and legislation) and contract negotiation.

She wrote the book It Is About You: How American Government Works and How to Help Fix It. She co-authored two other books: one on legal-document drafting and one on grammar and style for lawyers.

Prior to joining the UF Law faculty in 2008, Cupples worked as an attorney in private practice. She continues to do pro-bono work and to work as a legal consultant.

She earned her B.A., M.A., and J.D. degrees all from the University of Florida.

Visit her Faculty Profile.

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