Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Teaching Law Office Management: Why Law Students Need to Know the Business of Being a Lawyer

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Teaching Law Office Management: Why Law Students Need to Know the Business of Being a Lawyer

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

In 1996, I started teaching a class in the principles of Law Office Management to students at the Shepard Broad Law Center, Nova Southeastern University (NSU), in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The demand for this information was great, and it has remained consistently high.

One of the reasons for this consistent demand is the career path of many of our new law graduates. According to an employment survey conducted by our Career Development Office, the majority of our graduates, as with graduates nationwide, will go into private practice. (1) For the graduating class of 2006, 57.8% of our graduates reported being employed in private practice. (2) Of those working in private practice, almost three-quarters reported being employed in firms of ten attorneys or less, including solo practice. (3) New practitioners, particularly those working in small firms, want and need to be able to make the business decisions that will shape their law careers. (4) They appreciate the components of legal education that help them to transition to practice.

Since its inception, the information taught at NSU Law in law office management has changed format several times. First, the information was focused largely on starting a new firm, presented in small extra-credit workshops. Subsequently, the class became a two-credit, large lecture class with a greater focus on general law practice. Finally, the course has evolved in its current form to a twenty-student, two-credit, hands-on workshop on making and understanding decisions in law practice management. Regardless of the format, the core of the information has remained the same--practical information on how law firms work from the inside out.

The idea of incorporating professional skills in the law curriculum has arisen slowly over the past decades. However, a vast majority of legal scholarship on teaching professional skills for law students has focused on bringing clinical skills to the law curriculum. (5) Instead, this Article will discuss the importance of students learning the professional skill of Law Office Management. Part II will discuss what is "Law Office Management" as a subject area. Part III will explain why this information is critical to law students' education. Part IV will make suggestions for incorporating the core skills of this subject into a variety of curriculum.

II. WHAT IS LAW OFFICE MANAGEMENT?

The practice of law is a business. (6) But while focusing on teaching law students to "think like a lawyer," law schools often omit to tell students about the economic realities of surviving in practice. (7) Lawyers are not necessarily interested in or trained as business people and thus comes the harsh reality--if most lawyers had wanted to be business people, they might have gone to business school instead. (8) So for many law students, the realization that to earn a living as a lawyer, they also have to learn a business, can be very challenging.

But law students can be prepared to run the business of a law firm without first earning a business degree. (9) The misconception has arisen that law is only a profession and not a business. (10) Some argue that it does not matter if law is characterized as a profession or a business, (11) but the implication of this concept is widespread-you cannot compare the running of a law firm to, for example, an auto-mechanic's shop or a supermarket. Others believe that law is a business separate from the professional obligations to society. (12) But law indeed is a "professional service business" in which "[s]ound business practices" ensure that law actually is being practiced in a way which meets the demeanor that the profession requires. (13) The skills involved in managing a law practice are learnable by law students in a variety of formats, but they are not made available to many of them.

In contrast, there is a wide variety of information available to practicing lawyers on the topic of law office management. …

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