What They Don’t Teach You in Law School

Yesterday I received an e-mail from LPM Publications, which is the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association.  It was an advertisement for a new book Introduction to Law Firm Practice, which covers topics such as what on earth non-equity partners and of counsel are, law firm profit structures, and how to not just bring in new clients, but actually handle engagement letters, conflicts, and the like.

Sounds like something that would actually be useful for young attorneys so they can understand the business that they’re getting in to.  Even though they won’t be meeting with their big corporate clients any time soon, it is good to have a better understanding of the relationship between the client and the firm so that you can avoid making some dumb rookie mistakes.

And, unless you leave legal practice, this is something every lawyer will eventually need to know, unlike civil procedure, which only litigators will need, or the RAP and fee tail, which it turns out no one will ever need to know.

Now, remember that this is published by the same organization that sets law school accreditation standards, including what classes law schools must offer.  Repeat after me:

Conflict of interests.

Could the conflict here be any more clear?  This is information virtually every graduate will need, but very few law schools offer classes on law firm management.  It seems like precisely the type of thing law schools should then be required to teach.  But, why require schools to give basic information to students when you can give it to them for $79.95 a pop?

Just in case you think there’s a doubt as to whether a conflict really exists, here’s the title of the e-mail I got:

What They Don’t Teach You in Law School

You choose what they teach us in law school! You choose what they teach us in law school! You choose what they fucking teach us in fucking law fucking school!!!

Surely someone over there at the ABA has taken a class on professional responsibility and ethics, right?  I mean, that is a required class (as it should be), and I’m pretty sure the people running the ABA have been to law school, so they must have learned about conflicts of interests and seen this one a mile away.

But wait.  While the ABA requires law schools to not only offer professional responsibility, but to make it a required class, they don’t actually regulate the content of these classes.  The ABA merely requires that you have a class with the right words in the name, and which causes the registrar to check a certain box in your file.  Actually teaching professional responsibility and ethics is not required, as there is no monitoring or enforcement.

That’s okay though, the ABA publishes seven books on ethics and professional responsibility.

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7 Responses to “What They Don’t Teach You in Law School”

  1. Nando Says:

    Law schools teaching “professional responsibility,” “ethics” and “avoiding even the appearance of impropriety” provides me with many laughs. Apparently, they don’t need to follow their own advice – at least, not with regards to recruiting new lemmings to their institution.

  2. bl1y Says:

    My class didn’t teach professional responsibility or ethics. We were told if we wanted to learn that stuff, we can take a BarBri class. Instead we focused on the history of legal practice in colonial America. Our curriculum did not meet the ABA guidelines, but I still got my paper and am allowed to practice.

  3. Bad Monkey Says:

    How long before the ABA just looks like another AMA? A hack political organization which can’t even get 50% of those practicing the profession they claim to represent to join.

    Woops, too late.

    Cynics unite, yeah right.

  4. chris Says:

    “You choose what they fucking teach us in fucking law fucking school!!!”

    My roommate and I burst out laughing when we read that line, you did an excellent job of channeling righteous fury into your writing.

    However, I have to disagree you with on your assertion that ethics should be a required class. Explaining what is a conflict of interest and what isn’t, sure. But you either have ethical standards by law school or you don’t, and a semester long course won’t change that.

  5. bl1y Says:

    You are quite incorrect. Studies have shown that ethical behavior increases when people are reminded of their obligations. A semester long class where students are on call and having writing assignments won’t necessarily instill new virtues in the students, but may make them more likely to live up to the ones they already have.

    This also means there’s some merit to requiring a few ethics CLE credits every year, though the first one I got actually taught us how to trick clients in to paying lawyer fees for secretarial work. It also means there’s some merit to hanging up the 10 Commandments in class rooms, though any set of moral or ethical rules, like the school honor code, will work.

  6. LA LAwyer Says:

    Every law school should each ethics. We had lawyers out here hiring detectives to tap the phones of oppsing clients; we have lawyers every year tagged because they can’t recognize a conflict–and that is not always so obvious no matter how ethical you are as a person. Ethics is a lot more important then knowing about coram nobis and what not. PArt of the problem is that “ethics” courses quickly become a haven for useless law instructors or professors who have no law practice background and torture the class with PC anecdotes (“Must Bill speak up when the thoughtless male laughs at a tasteless joke?”), or endless theories instead of real life examples. And every state ought to require some ethics CLE for lawyers for the same reason sexual harassment classes are required more than once.

  7. bl1y Says:

    Definitely right that many ethics issues are not readily apparent to the lay person. Ethics and prof resp classes are needed to prepare students for problems that wouldn’t have foreseen otherwise, or to give them solutions they would not have thought of.

    They’re also useful (assuming they actually do a good job teaching) for training students on certain professional norms. For instance, if opposing party requests a continuance, one of these “I like to argue” types might instinctively oppose it, being unaware that this is very bad form when your client wouldn’t be prejudiced, and doing so may irritate the judge and hurt your client’s case.

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