It's that time of year when law students turn into lawyer-trainees, whether because of articling or summer jobs, and from everything I've heard most hiring law firms give their students a crash course in legal research. Brenda Johnson recently laid out for us the elements of her program at (the burgeoning) Bennet Jones LLP. This, and the fact that I too am in the process of hiring a research assistant for the summer, got me thinking about the relation between law schools and law firms.
Law schools have been known to bridle at suggestions from practice that they aren't doing what they should be doing; and the bar has been known to make some pretty short-sighted recommendations to the academy. All of which typically sends false dichotomies — theory-practice, "real world"-"ivory tower", Pericles-plumber
Perhaps if law firms were clear and relatively unanimous in their expectations of students' research skills, perhaps if those expectations were conveyed to students more or less directly (LRW teachers would be willing messengers), and perhaps if hiring were to any extent at all influenced by a candidate's demonstrated research skills, law students might pay attention.
This alone wouldn't accomplish a revolution: the schools would have to chime in with their own re-emphasis on research. They might consider research skills certification as a serious matter apart from the business of awarding a grade in LRW. They might require students to make public a portfolio of some of their research efforts, including the research plan, research record, outline, and the rough draft. Law schools might even have the courage to ensure that faculty members know what they're doing when it comes to research techniques. If they did this, things might change.
Legal skill at research is everyone's idea of a good, a rallying point for real collaboration on legal education between firms and faculties. Slaw could be an honest broker here.