By Kevin O'Keefe

Law schools are not exposing students to real world business development

Hard to Find

Are law schools preparing law students for the real world? A world where they’ll need to develop a book of business or eventually be fired or go hungry—let alone pay the student loans whose proceeds went to the law school that left them ill-equipped?

Mary Mogan Edwards (@marymoganedwards) had a nice piece in Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch about college newspapers changing with the times. They’re publishing less in print and more online.

Unlike metro dailies, who are making the move in order to survive, college newspapers are making the move in order to teach students and prepare them for the real world.

The cutbacks go down hard with some, especially newspaper alumni, but the students making the decisions generally see changes as inevitable — not just to make the numbers work, but to prepare them for journalism as it’s practiced today.

“Students have to focus on their careers,” said Emma Ockerman, editor of The Post. Publishing a print newspaper five days a week means “We’re putting all our interest and focus into a product that is shrinking in readership.”

Pouring their energy instead into a breaking-news website and a weekly paper will be a better use of time and resources, she said. “We don’t have to worry about downsizing staff.”

I am headed back to East Lansing in a couple weeks for the third time in the last year. I’ll be working with Michigan State Law School to do a day-long social media and blogging boot camp for law students, alumni and the administration.

The law school is behind social media one hundred percent. Michigan State Law believes in social media for a number of reasons, but two really resonate with me. One, to prepare its law students and to help them get jobs. They have a history that shows it works. And two, to provide meaningful access to legal information and services. By leveraging technology and the Internet, MSU Law knows lawyers can connect with people, build trust and deliver legal services more efficiently.

And MSU Law walks the talk. Their Dean, Joan Howarth, who sat in all day for our first boot camp, is an active user of Facebook. Not just to share personal experiences but to share her views on the legal profession, its governing bodies and legal education. I wish other lawyers were half as authentic on social media as Dean Howarth.

In contrast, I hoped to speak to the law school students at my undergrad in South Bend. I was told that with a brief program like I proposed, students rarely show up. I asked if the dean of the law school, dean of career of development and others in the administration used social media and blogging for relationship-building, learning and networking. I was told they do not.

How important do the law students at this school believe social media is? I suspect they believe resumés, on-campus interviews, law review and summer associate positions, like they were 57 years ago, are the way to go. Not that you want to dismiss all of these things, but they’ll not distinguish you nor will they prepare you before the type of business development being done today.

I met last week with the head of U.S. business development for a large multinational law firm. He told me the greatest frustration he has is that law schools are not exposing students to aspects of business development when the business of law is all relationship-driven.

When told about my call with the law school in South Bend, he says that’s the problem—leaders in law schools, out of fear of being exposed, do not acknowledge what they do not know themselves and do not use the mediums businesses are using today.

If you’re a law student, ask yourself if your law school is truly preparing you for the future. Ask yourself if other law schools are preparing their students for the real world.

If you’re a law school leader, ask yourself if you truly understand what students need for the road ahead. Have you spoken with the business development people in law firms who are charged with helping lawyers become a lawyer with a book of business? Are you helping law students who want to work in small and medium-size firms distinguish themselves? And for those grads wanting to go solo, are you exposing them as to how to get business today?

Take a page of what college newspapers are doing. Change course.

Image courtesy of Flicker by Wayne Stadler

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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