Report of the Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession – by Carey R. Dunne

Providing support to the legal profession has always been one of the primary missions of the New York City Bar Association, and rarely has the profession been in such need of support. If you’re a recent law school graduate, you know the situation all too well, because while law student debt is rising, only one out of two of you are expected to find a full-time job requiring bar passage. For those fortunate to find work, many starting salaries are down, and you are confronting new kinds of challenges driven by ever-increasing cost pressures, competition, new ways of doing business, and career paths different from those that traditionally have been available. Yet there are also new opportunities, as several legal fields are booming and there is further need for legal services for middle-income families, a demand which is not making the connection with the available supply of lawyers.

In the summer of 2012, I convened the New York City Bar Association Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession to study these issues and determine how new lawyers can be better prepared in law school and in their early careers to serve clients and realize their aspirations. The Task Force is chaired by Mark Morril and includes eight law school deans, managing partners of large and small law firms, general counsels of Fortune 100 corporations, the New York and Kings County District Attorneys, the New York City Corporation Counsel and the heads of New York City’s legal aid and legal services organizations. A year later, we have announced our findings along with a number of recommendations, including some programs that will be housed at and/or managed by the City Bar.

The City Bar New Lawyer Institute will provide an introduction to the New York legal community, featuring prominent speakers from government, the judiciary and the rest of the legal community, and will offer a continuing education curriculum designed to equip new lawyers with the practical skills and substantive knowledge they need to advance their careers. Launching in late summer of 2014 and running through the academic year, the program will include training tailored toward a small-firm or solo practice, advice and experience in professional networking and job interviewing, and access to mentorship opportunities. While we expect that the curricula will most likely attract job-hunting graduates, the institute will also be of value to those who are newly employed or who obtain employment during the program year. Since most lawyers can be expected to change jobs several times over the course of a career, even young lawyers with jobs in large organizations will find that the institute provides valuable guidance that may not be available through their first employer. The City Bar will also develop a “bridge-to-practice program” with several employers—including BNY Mellon, Con Edison, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley—who, subject to working out details, will partner with law schools to create opportunities for law students and lawyers just starting out.

Additionally, the Task Force will be asking the New York State Board of Law Examiners and the New York Court of Appeals, along with the wider legal community, to consider a number of specific proposals to reform the bar examination and new lawyer accreditation process. Proposed reforms include reducing the prolonged period between when an applicant takes the exam and gains admission to the bar, and making the exam less about rote memorization and more about practical skills. We will convene a working group to develop specific proposals over the next year.

Last, but most definitely not least, the City Bar is in the initial stages of planning a New Law Firm for Persons of Moderate Means. This new venture is in response to a modern-day paradox, which is that while there is supposedly an oversupply of lawyers in the current market, there is also an enormous unmet legal need among the American middle class. Despite the well-documented fact that having a lawyer greatly increases one’s chance of success, there are literally millions of people in New York trying to resolve their legal problems on their own. The new law firm model would employ mostly new lawyers, with appropriate training and supervision, to provide a suite of services in areas including family law, estate planning, contract drafting, disputes, and small business advice for clients. We will seek to construct a scalable model which could be replicated by others across the country, and which we hope will contribute to a shift in thinking about how new lawyers can develop their careers as they help the unrepresented.

Finally, a new City Bar Council on the Profession will be responsible for the implementation of the Task Force’s proposals and pilot programs, and with keeping these issues front and center. Look for a series of events at the City Bar on these topics designed to engage the bar and the public in shaping the future of the legal profession.

Read the executive summary here:

Read the full report here

Carey R. Dunne is the President of the New York City Bar Association.