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Making the Grade After Law School

Harvard Law School recently commissioned an online survey of 124 lawyers from the university’s 11 largest employers on the topic “What Courses Should Law Students Take?”

The questionnaire took the positive approach, foregoing cynical or snide responses like “Anything But Law,” “How To Collect Unemployment Insurance,” “Managing Anger, Depression and Ulcers,” “Writing the Bulletproof Pre-Nup,” “Does the Lawyer-Client Privilege Prevent You From Writing a Best-Selling Tell-All?” and “’Al Jaffe’s Snappy Answers To Lawyer Jokes.”

Also absent were any courses remotely related to areas like ethics, idealism, philosophy of law, or the underpinnings of justice, presumably because those are already extensively taught and law schools are routinely churning out row upon row of modern day Socrates.

But I jest. The intent of surveying Harvard Law School’s largest employers was to glean “What courses should students take in order to pay off the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt they’ve incurred attending Harvard Law School?”

Aha! That’s what the course sounds like it’s asking. But as Steven J. Harper at The American Lawyer piquantly points out, the 11 firms constituting Harvard’s largest employers included in the survey hire most of their new associates from their second-year summer programs which only take into consideration first-year grades. Also, the law school course doesn’t exist which can help graduates become equity partners. Whether or not Harper is substantively correct, his larger point, that the survey was not intended to offer a magic bullet to law school grads vis a vis obtaining employment, likely stands up.

What the survey actually did ascertain was which skills might best well serve young lawyers once they land a job at a big law firm that mostly deals with corporate clients. To which the answers were: accounting, financial statement analysis and corporate finance. In other words, the bottom line is that students should line up for courses in getting to the bottom of the bottom line.

The survey also sought to provide insight into which knowledge bases and skills were most prized in associates. After the afore-mentioned “Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis,” two quasi-“human” skillsets snuck in: “Teamwork” ranked second, and “Negotiations” fourth. There were several write-in votes for “Leadership training,” “Persuasive writing,” and “Communications,” but the survey noted, “There are ‘crazies’ in every group.” (Legal disclaimer: I made that “note” up.)

Given that most things in life eventually get down to “money,” and that these days corporate finance is almost unimaginably sophisticated, arcane and byzantine, it’s not surprising that these courses were named. In fact, they seem almost too obvious to require a survey about. After all, you’re not going to intimidate multi-national corporate malefactors armed with highly paid accountants whose job title is Chief Befuddler, standing in their headquarters wielding an abacus.

Still, it does make the legal profession sound like it’s morphing into some weird, new hybrid: He’s a lawyer! He’s an accountant! He’s a lawyant!

Unfortunately, still unanswered is the Million Dollar (more or less) Question: “What courses should a law student take to get a &%$#$ JOB???”

I suspect today’s real-world answer involves a whole other skillset that Harvard has never thought to offer, like How To Avoid Posting Incriminating Stuff About Yourself on Facebook and Twitter, Or Erase It If You’ve Already Gone There.

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