Opinion Column on Lack of Law Practice Management Classes

BY KBECKER@LAW.HARVARD.EDU

Law Practice Entrepreneurship and Management Classes Missing from HLS Curriculum

For those members of the Harvard Law School community that would like to start and run our own, small law firms someday, the HLS curriculum leaves us untrained and unprepared. As I glanced through the course list this spring, trying, mostly in vain, to search for a course or two that would provide some sort of real benefit to my ever more quickly impending career as a lawyer, it became apparent that Harvard Law School offers not a single class that teaches students how to run their own law firm.

Such classes are commonplace at many regional or local law schools, where students tend to be older, have stronger ties to the area, and are more likely to start their careers in a small firm environment. For example, Suffolk Law School, just across the river, offers a course called “Law Practice Management: Planning for Law as a Career and an Enterprise,” that provides an opportunity for students to explore and clarify their interests in practicing law, through a combination of research and interviews with attorneys in different fields. The course teaches students about financial and non-financial issues involved in conducting a successful law practice, and culminates with students writing a formal written law practice management plan incorporating the results of the course research and analysis. Harvard does a disservice to its students by not offering such an opportunity.

Somewhere in the middle of the large mass of students who choose the large firm lifestyle, and the small cadre of those who choose the calling of public interest work or academia, lie a forgotten few whose career goals include becoming one of the more than 70% of lawyers who practice as solo practitioners or in small law firms. Even among those of us who choose to start our careers at large firms, in government, or in public interest organizations, many of us will end up starting, and running, firms like this in the future. This curricular black hole leaves us unprepared and disadvantaged in beginning and maintaining such practices.

Some may argue that those of us interested in being “ordinary” lawyers should have chosen to go to a local or regional school, rather than Harvard Law School. Yet I find it hard to believe that the choice to go to a top flight legal institution should mean one between adequate preparation to enter the practice of law and a rigorous academic experience among peers of similar intellect, ambition and experience. These should be commensurate aims. Harvard Law strives to be the greatest legal institution in the world. That mission should include training lawyers to practice the way the majority of the profession practices.

In speaking to the faculty of this winter’s trial advocacy workshop, Dean Kagan waxed eloquently about the growing divide between legal academia and legal practice, and noted her commitment to working to bridge that divide. Allowing HLS students the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge relevant to becoming part of the majority of our profession that are trial practitioners in solo or small practices would lay a strong foundation for that bridge.

Keith Becker, ’04 528 words

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