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Forced Mentorship Is Latest Response to Broken Legal Education System

Are you ready for some stop-gap measures?

Given that law schools keep pumping out more graduates than the market can handle, the state of Oregon is trying an interesting approach to deal with the mass of lawyers being unleashed into the system. Following in the footsteps of Georgia and Utah, Oregon will now require new lawyers to enroll in a year-long mentoring program.

People sitting for the February bar were informed that they will be subject to this new requirement. The goal of the program is to provide some guidance for all the unemployed law graduates, especially those who are thinking of going out there and hanging a shingle.

Because, you know, it’s not like three years in law school actually prepare you to start a career…

The National Law Journal reports that Oregon is trying to step in to replace what the private market is no longer able to provide:

The New Lawyer Mentoring Program — being developed by the Oregon State Bar at the request of the Oregon Supreme Court — will be the third such program in the country when it begins in May. “Part of this program is intended to address a problem that didn’t exit in the past,” said Steve Piucci, president of the Oregon bar.

“You would graduate law school, get a job at a firm and people there would serve as mentors,” Piucci said. “Now, there are so many people who can’t get firm jobs and are hanging out their shingle. We’re trying to connect them with the professional side of the job and teach them the culture — teach them how to be civil, how to network and introduce them around at the courthouse.”

Regulatory action at its best? Well, only if you can pay the administrative fee:

Dave Lickiss, a 3L at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore., believes that the program is a good idea but predicted not everyone will agree. “There are probably going to be some upset students, depending on how much paperwork is required,” he said. “Students are not going to be keen on the idea of paying for it. You’re already forking over $100,000 or so for a legal education. Now we have to pay more?”

Those designing the Oregon program are sensitive to the costs, said Philip Schradle, staff attorney to [Oregon Chief Justice Paul De Muniz]. The plan is to charge new lawyers $100 at completion of the program to cover administrative costs.

Is this the wave of the future? The Oregon program is not the first of its kind. Georgia has had a similar program since 2005 (!), and Utah started one in 2009. Both states report successes with their programs.

The key to making these programs work is finding good mentors willing to help the next generation. Oregon is looking for 350 mentors with at least five years of experience. Would you be willing to show a young (possibly unemployed) lawyer the ropes?

Assuming good people volunteer their time to help out, it’s hard to see a downside with these programs. Law school doesn’t prepare you to practice, and everybody knows it. Instead of waiting for somebody to force law schools to provide something more valuable for three years, it’s nice to see states getting involved and at least trying to help the next generation of legal professionals.

A mentorship program like Oregon’s doesn’t fix the bigger gaps in our system of legal education. But for now, it’s a Band-Aid — and that’s not a bad thing.

Mentorships are made mandatory [National Law Journal]
Oregon Requires Yearlong Mentorship for Law Grads [ABA Journal]

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