May 22, 2012 Practice Points

State Bar of California Aims to Add Mentorship Regulations

By Virginia Sierra

The largest state bar in the United States, the State Bar of California, is moving toward implementing a mandatory internship/mentorship program or a form of hands-on training for those who intend to practice law in the state. This change could force law schools to change their curriculum to the benefit of graduates, especially those intending to immediately start a solo or small-firm practice.

For a lawyer to hang his or her own shingle, he or she must be able to draft a motion or a contract, take or defend a deposition, and interview a client. These skills are not normally taught during law school, but rather in a working/mentoring environment. Generally, the ideal transition is from law student to big-firm associate to a solo or small-firm practice, if that is the attorney's goal. These steps ensure on-the-job training to prepare for solo or small-firm practice. If a new member of the state bar decides to hang his or her own shingle, these skills may be lacking. With the recent swing to more new lawyers starting their own firms before joining an established firm, California's proposed program would help to better prepare them. An internship or mentorship program implemented in some form during law school would produce graduates ready to perform on their own.

The State Bar of California wants new lawyers to be prepared to tackle practical tasks from the get-go, which may be great in theory, but some question the practicality of the state regulating law-school curriculum. Law schools have typically taken a stance against the state bar regulating this type of training, as a change in curriculum could adversely affect the school's ranking. Schools are, however, adding these types of programs because they recognize the benefit.

Keywords: litigation, solo practitioners, small firms, California, state bars, law schools

Virginia Sierra is with Cohen, Kennedy, Dowd & Quigley in Phoenix, Arizona.


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