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The Corner Office: Commonly-Lacking Skills

The Corner Office: Commonly-Lacking Skills

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In The Corner Office we ask Senior and Managing Partners across Central and Eastern Europe about their unique roles and responsibilities. The question this time around: “What is the one skill, ability, or characteristic that fresh law school graduates in your country most commonly lack?”

Bryan Jardine, Partner, Wolf Theiss Romania

In over twenty years managing international law offices in Romania, the skill I have observed that is typically lacking in new law school graduates is the ability to write a clear and concise analytical memo. They tend is to produce lengthy academic memos with long citations to various Romanian laws but with no clear application of these laws to the facts or issues facing the client. The advice also lacks a concise and commercially-oriented conclusion or solution for the clients. As I tell my lawyers, “the client is not interested in your encyclopedic knowledge of Romanian law or the minutiae and developments of the Civil Code since 1867. They simply want to know if they can do X legally in Romania; if so, how, if not, what Y alternatives would you propose?” Clients want solution-oriented and commercially-viable advice but new graduates think they want to see smart lawyers who know the law. To combat this, I try to train all our lawyers in the “IRAC” method of writing analytical memos, a method I learned myself as a first-year law student at UCLA. State the Issue and facts that needs to be analyzed for the client, research the relevant Rule or Regulation that should apply, Apply the Rule to issue and facts of the client’s situation, and then state your clear and concise Conclusion   

Erwin Hanslik, Partner, Taylor Wessing Czech Republic

I believe that we are spoiled in Prague, because at least those graduates who apply to our firm usually have very good language skills and are interested in their jobs. One thing they are often lacking, perhaps, is the ability to work extremely precisely. There are regularly small mistakes in their texts. I always tell them that it is important not only to write and read the text on the screen, but to also print it and then to read it again. Our eyes tend to oversee typos on the screen. Believe me, those graduates who work with me usually improve this ability very soon. But as I said at the beginning, this is complaining on a high level.  

Erika Papp, Managing Partner, CMS Hungary

Law students are in many ways more qualified than ever. But if there is one area where graduates may need improvement, it is in the practical application of the law. 

There are many things you must know to be a lawyer. But to be a good lawyer you must know how to apply the law in a way that best serves your clients. A graduate can have all the theoretical knowledge in the world, but he is still not qualified until he learns the skills necessary to apply these theories. Skills such as how to draft contracts that fully protect clients; how to find clients in a competitive market; how to liaise with them; how to create business plans that ensure a firm’s growth; how to manage a practice; how to be a team player; how to negotiate deals both great and small; and how to solve problems – and, more importantly, how to anticipate them. 

Most graduates only begin learning these skills at their first job. Some students are lucky enough to work at law firms during the summer or to have part-time legal jobs while studying. A few law schools are adding practical skills and on-the-job training to their curricula. My advice to new graduates: learn the practical aspects of the profession as soon as possible. Your real education takes place in the conference room, not the classroom.   

Mykola Stetsenko, Co-Managing Partner, Avellum

I think fresh law school students in Ukraine are very hardworking and super-fast-learning. However, the downside of this ability and the easy access to information today make them really impatient. Admittedly, career growth in the legal profession is speeding up, but a true top lawyer still requires time to mature, like good wine. 

Vladimir Sayenko, Partner, Sayenko Kharenko

Fresh law school graduates obviously lack experience – both practical professional experience and basic life experience. This is natural and probably true in every country. Interestingly, in Ukraine the situation has its peculiarities. The still-dominant post-Soviet legal education provided by most universities in Ukraine is very academic. To make up for this shortcoming in their education, a majority of students seek part-time jobs during their final years in law school. When I graduated from law school at the age of 21, I already had two years of solid professional experience with one of the country’s leading law firms and qualified as mid-level associate. Today, a number of private companies provide practical training for law students to prepare them for real jobs. Our law firm, for example, runs a summer school for law students, which serves as a good source of talent for our internship program. Proactive students who want to develop quickly will typically find a way to gain practical experience before they start full time jobs. Some of them even manage to turn their lack of experience into an advantage. Such people approach each new task with an open mind. They quickly absorb precedents and guidance prepared by the knowledge management team, while trying to improve processes by offering document automation and other solutions. Our firm organizes ideation training to make people think outside of the box and encourage innovation. The only problem then is to convince the new generation of lawyers that they still need to be patient before they start running the most complex projects and become real partners in the legal business!  

Rastko Petakovic, Managing Partner, Karanovic & Partners

The skill of presenting their views succinctly.

With thousands of new lawyers graduating every year, my observation is that these young newcomers usually lack this one, important trait. They are smart, hard-working, very capable problem-solvers, but they are not known for their brevity or clarity.

Understandably, communicating complex legal concepts clearly and concisely is not easy. Having recently attempted to cut a three-page document down to one and a half, I can attest that this is not easily mastered. However, like all skills, being succinct is something that can be learned and trained.

For lawyers, this skill is of great importance because a client must be able to easily understand you in order to trust and respect your advice. If the client cannot understand you and the value you bring, then not only can you not be considered an expert in your field, but it’s unlikely that they’ll ask for your help again.

Presenting one’s views succinctly is an art that, once learnt, will serve young lawyers and their clients well.

Alina Popescu, Founding Partner, Maravela | Asociatii

In order to keep it short, I think some young lawyers lack that passion and commitment that was more common back in the days when I graduated. Times have changed, and so have generations. It depends on the individual, but it is, without a doubt, a matter of collective mentality as well. And if skills can be shaped through time, the passion and the commitment are characteristics that one should (ideally) possess to begin with. Of course, I am referring to the legal industry, but I am pretty sure it is reflected in other professions as well.    

This Article was originally published in Issue 6.2 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.