Articles Posted in What Makes An Attorney “Competent”


The Point

1. After two years of white-hot demand for their services, Bloomberg Law’s recent headline says demand for the junior lawyers who work as employees of big law firms (“associates”) is taking a sharp downward turn.

2. Even without the Pandemic’s boom / bust impacts on the legal market, the vast majority of such associates end up as short-termers who spend about six or fewer years at firms that nevertheless charge hundreds per hour for their work.

3. Those law firms lack an incentive to invest robustly in the average associate’s professional development, because most associates won’t become partners.

4. So the hundreds per hour charged for such associates’ time pays for the services of young attorneys who too often have been given only ad hoc preparation — who are “supervised” by one, two, or even three levels of attorneys senior to them — with consequent wasteful duplication. Continue reading


Yesterday I was privileged to hear Jordan Furlong, a globally renowned expert on the legal profession, take up this question in addressing Canada’s National Legal Innovator’s Roundtable: How long does it take to make a competent lawyer?

Over the years he’s asked accomplished attorneys just how long it took them to know what they were doing in the courtroom, drafting transaction documents, or counseling businesspeople.

Their consistent answer: 3 to 5 years. Continue reading


The Point

As I wrote in my previous post, the U.S. legal profession confines its formal training to a theoretical knowledge of law (J.D. from a law school) and an academic test of memorization (the bar exam). Licensed attorneys’ grounding in practical skills consists almost entirely of unsystematic, on-the-job improvisation. Ad hoc “qualification” whose adequacy is never reviewed by any objective or authoritative third party.

In the U.S. system, once a law firm associate passes the bar, their employer-law firm can start invoicing their hours to corporate law departments willing to pay for them.

To move from this ad hoc and casual acquisition of practical lawyer skills to organized and rigorous training, the U.S. legal system could look to three qualification models:

1. Physicians,

2. Airline pilots, and

3. Solicitors and barristers in England and Wales. Continue reading


The Point

Physicians and business lawyers: The work of both professions is consequential for those they serve. On the capabilities of the first group depend life and death of their patients — literal, personal health outcomes. On the capabilities of the second group depend — if not life and death and personal health — people’s livelihoods in the form of the company’s health and well being, and the jobs, share price, and pension holdings related to the company.

High stakes in both professions. Medicine is standardized and precise in physicians’ practical training and skills development — and accountable to formal third-party validation for quality. But lawyers’ formal, third-party validated preparation is confined to theoretical knowledge acquired by reading and classroom instruction in law school; confirmed by a bar examination that tests academic memorization.

Attorneys’ practical training and skills development are left almost entirely to unsystematic, on-the-job improvisation — whose adequacy is neither reviewed nor confirmed by any objective or authoritative third party. Continue reading

The Point

In a recent post, this blog covered the FisherBroyles law firm, which recently won acclaim for becoming one of the 200 highest revenue U.S. law firms (“AmLaw 200”). It has no offices, no associates, and no secretaries—what partner James Fisher calls, “the headwinds of profitability.”

As to “no associates”, since its inception 20 years ago, FisherBroyles has guaranteed that everyone it designates as a “lawyer” or “attorney” on a client company’s bill (whose work that bill describes as “legal services” or “legal advice”), is a fully-qualified attorney of at least 7 years experience — more typically 15 to 25 years experience practicing law.

This Matters

This is not true of the traditional U.S. law firm.

Whose hourly billing business model relies on adding more recent law graduates to pump up total charges for the work of mature, accomplished attorneys. Continue reading

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