State Bar Task Force Considers Training Requirement for Lawyering Skills
LOS ANGELES - Members of a special State Bar task force aren't sure what sort of
training in practical lawyering skills they may demand of would-be California practitioners,
but they seemed to agree Tuesday to impose some sort of requirement.
"There will be a consensus ... on some form of new training in competence skills for
new lawyers above and beyond what we train for with the bar exam," State Bar President
Jon B. Streeter said at the end of a three-hour meeting of the panel.
Streeter set up the task force in the spring to examine whether the bar "should develop
a regulatory requirement for a pre-admission practical skills training program" to propose
to the Supreme Court.
In its initial meetings in June and August, the 21-member Task Force on Admissions
Regulation Reform heard descriptions of other states' and professions' skills training
programs and heard objections from law school deans to new requirements.
In Tuesday's meeting, the members discussed those and other ideas, ranging from
requiring apprenticeships before new law school graduates are admitted to requiring extra
continuing legal education for new lawyers after admission.
Several members of the group said any proposal should allow assorted ways for the
12,000 people who apply to be California lawyers each year to satisfy a new skills
Richard A. Frankel, a member of the Committee of Bar Examiners from San Ramon,
said that "there should be a mixture of pre-admission and post-admission" options.
One post-admission approach the group discussed is the assignment of mentors to
new lawyers. A number of states in the past few years have begun requiring each new
lawyer in the first year of practice to meet regularly with an experienced lawyer who offers
practical, management, interpersonal and ethics guidance.
State Bar Executive Director Joseph L. Dunn said a mentorship program could work in
California, despite the thousands of new lawyers admitted annually. He said the bar could
model the program on its minimum continuing legal education program, with local and
specialty bar associations signing on as mentorship "providers."
The additional costs to the State Bar would be manageable, the provider associations
would gain additional revenue from fees, and the marketplace would take care of
matching law graduates with active areas of practice, Dunn said.
"We would set the standards, and the marketplace would fill the need," he said. In the
Central Valley, for instance, the marketplace would bring forth mentorship opportunities
serving farm workers, according to Dunn.
"I see the potential here for a great deal of innovation in the kind of mentoring programs
that could be allowed," Streeter said.
Pre-admission skills training could take place in the four or five months between the bar
exam and swearing-in ceremonies, according to task force member Patricia P. White of
Littler Mendelson PC. "We could have four months of mentoring or apprenticeship," she
said, when about-to-be lawyers would work at law firms for half pay.
Dean Deanell Reece Tacha of Pepperdine University School of Law, a former federal
circuit judge, supports the idea.
But Audrey B. Collins, who recently stepped down as chief judge of the U.S. Central
District Court in Los Angeles, cautioned that any new admission requirement would have
to work for graduates of unaccredited or California-accredited law schools, not just those
from elite schools.
Many task force members also saw a skills requirement as a means to help people
who can't afford lawyers. "We have not enough jobs for lawyers and not enough lawyers
for people who need them," said Matthew K. Edling of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP. A
skills requirement could address both problems, he said.
Tacha agreed. "We, the legal profession, need to make a serious effort to correct the
problem of unmet legal needs."
Streeter spoke favorably several times about the newly released plan to require bar
applicants in New York to perform 50 hours of pro bono work prior to admission. He said
he would like to see "if we could find a way to replicate something like that" as one part of
any California proposal.
Bar president Streeter said he, Dunn and bar staff intend to draft a detailed outline of a
proposal for the task force to consider at its Nov. 7 meeting.