So Who’s Really Smarter?

In a post entitled “Why new lawyers are smarter”, Lee Akazaki gushes on about the current crop of law students, soon to become the Millennial Generation of Future Super Duper Lawyers Way Smarter Than Us Old Codgers:

They asked well-informed questions.  They had read the materials over the holiday break.  They came with an open mind and left ready to tackle the factum-writing portion of the course.  Could I have had the same conversation with senior members of the bar?  Could they have taught some members of our judiciary a thing or two about the tort of interference with economic relations?  (In fact, yes: one of my students noticed – where I hadn’t – that a recent Court of Appeal decision had, in distinguishing a prior precedent, misconstrued a critical fact.*)

Akazaki continues with more fulsome praise of the New Greatest Generation:

The entire mindset that law school is about cramming is outdated, and belongs to a time when legal education was struggling to shake off vestiges of its trade school mentality.  During my time in law school in the 1980′s, the notion of Canadian law as dialogue among stakeholders in our society was still nascent.  The Charter was still being read down as an interloper law.

Over the years, my experience as a moot court course supervisor has always taught me more about the law than I have taught the students.  A great unfair bargain, is teaching.  As presiding judge in the “Moot Court of Flavelle,” I’ve had the unique experience of keeping time and listening to my students and the other judges spar over questions of law.  What we witness, in this process, is a glimpse into the minds of apprentice lawyers of the 21st Century.  They do seem awfully smart, compared to their senior counterparts.  It is not so much they are smarter (they may very well be).  Rather, legal education has advanced into a better hybrid of professional school and academy.  It is still a work in progress.  From an adult education perspective, legal education is better today than it was 25 years ago.  The fact it is different has led to the perception among senior bar members to hold the opposite view.

Ok. I get it. These law students are really, really smart and we can learn from them. They need not learn from senior lawyers, when they have Wikipedia, Google,  Twitter and shiny new iPads.

Sure, they’re smart enough to get into law school, pass the Bar Exams with flying colours and then they’ll be ready to take on the legal world. Excelsior!

But wait a second, says Joe Palazzolo, writing for the WSJ Blog in an article called “ABA President: Law Students, You Should Have Known” quoting -William Robinson, president of the American Bar Association:

It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago.

So what are the prospects for the legal smart-set in Canada? According to Matt LaForge in his Lawyers Weekly article entitled “The lawyer job market for young lawyers in Canada”, not so good:

No, the situation in the U.S. is not good. Those who either are or will soon be job seekers outnumber by tens of thousands the quantity of available jobs. And the firms’ clients, themselves scrambling to reduce costs, are demanding smaller bills. The results: downward pressure on compensation, working conditions, job security, and professional prestige. What about here in Canada? Are economic conditions creating a cohort of contractors and temps, a generation of law school grads who see themselves as having been sold a bill of goods?  It almost goes without saying that the issue is top-of-mind within the profession. Law students, new calls and junior associates have heard the horror stories, and they want to know where they stand. In the July issue of Novus Tellem, the newsletter produced by the Young Lawyers’ Division of the Ontario Bar Association, Stephanie Sales, who last spring completed her articles at Ottawa’s Connolly Obagi LLP, wrote an article about an event held in Ottawa called “Life After Articles,” a by-lawyers-for-lawyers pep talk of the sort that is dotting the cosmos of the profession with increasing density.

LaForge quotes “Sarah, a new call who didn’t want her full name used in this article for fear of professional reprisal” who shares her recent job hunting experiences:

“Juniors are desperate,” Sarah says. “And it’s so sad because they’re willing to bust their asses and work so hard. And, literally, you have great people going to interviews saying, ‘I will do anything, I’ll do whatever you tell me.’

“I guess everyone eventually gets a job but I don’t know if that’s actually true,” she continues. “It seems there are a lot of people, especially right out of law school, who have had a hard time finding a permanent job and they drop off the map for a little while. Probably everyone gets placed eventually, but I don’t know.”

A more sober perspective comes from John Ohnjec, division director at Robert Half Legal’s Ottawa office.

“It’s not unprecedented. These options have always existed for people,” he says, referring to temp and contract work. “If anything, it’s just more pronounced now.”

Ohnjec might be described as an optimistic realist vis-a-vis the job market for new calls. He is willing to acknowledge that the game has either already changed or is about to change, but he sees no reason to panic.

“There needs to be a realization that non-full-time, non-permanent positions are a viable avenue towards employment,” he says.

Smart lawyers are a dime a dozen, but the best advice from a senior lawyer is not telling a law student how smart they are. There is enough self-entitlement in every generation, perhaps more so in the Millennial Generation. The Slackoisie don’t need another cheerleader, Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice often reminds us. Rather, the best advice is to show a law student how the practice of law “smarts” (as in “ouchy, that hurts!”). Tell a law student what it takes to be a competent and ethical lawyer, having survived through two or three recessions and what you did to survive in a down economy. That’s what I call “street smarts” on my side of the street.

3 Responses to “So Who’s Really Smarter?”

  1. nothingwillbehidden Says:

    Very well stated. I agree and good timing for me. This is wise, sound advice as always,thanks for this post.

  2. leeakazaki Says:

    Good debate, Antonin. Hope others will comment, too. Cheers.

  3. Antonin I. Pribetic Says:

    Thanks Lee. I enjoy reading your blog posts, even the ones I don’t necessarily agree with, which is the point of blawging.

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