My Law School Wish List: Techno-Savvy Interns

I’ve interviewed and hired a fair number of law students for positions with my firm; probably more than I should in my short time practicing. One of my test questions, or “practical skills” requests is send me your resume in PDF format. Surprisingly, only a few applicants successfully accomplished that goal.

The reason for my request is two-fold: to test the applicant’s ability follow simple instructions, and to test “techno-savvy-ness” of the potential hire.

Law schools fail abysmally when it comes to churning out students and graduates who can create, manipulate and navigate fundamental technology in the law office. There isn’t a lawyer alive today who doesn’t deal with PDF documents, and if they’re curmudgeon enough, they’ll lie and tell you “I’m from the old school.”

However, it’s not just those “old school” attorneys who struggle. Just recently, I spoke with a lawyer I graduated law school with who told me “I don’t know much about computers.” Whatever that means, it still means this attorney’s falling behind.

Forgive me, but you’re dead. Students cannot exit from law school and not have a fundamental grasp on technology in the law office.

And then I hear of stories like this. Granted, that was a long time ago, and the “portable devices” weighed 25 pounds. Yet the stigma still remains. I had several law school professors who banned devices because of their “distraction,” and even a great number who knew nothing about computers and didn’t even use email. Their boasting sickened me.

We’re in “the age of technology,” with desktop devices becoming mobile, cloud-based, and rapidly-changing. Students, and lawyers, who cannot, or will not adapt to use computers effectively are doing their clients a disservice. You must know more than how to use Facebook.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be able to build or repair a computer, service a network, or use programming code to build your own client database system, though if you’re in a solo or small firm, they’re skills that will come in handy. I merely suggest that you must know and have experience with the following:

  1. Microsoft Office (sorry WordPerfect users): be able to perform basic word processing, have sufficiently strong (40 wpm+) typing skills, use tables, styles, and other formatting to draft pleadings, letters, and other documents, and understand how to use Word’s “Examine” feature to clear metadata from the document. Be able to create presentations, manage email (though on a less important level) with Outlook, or use Excel to create tables and spreadsheets to effectively manage information.
  2. Adobe Acrobat PDF: be able to convert documents, websites, photos, etc., to PDF with simple clicks, manage metadata, create bookmarks and other edits, redact, “Bates stamp”, and manipulate PDF documents effectively.
  3. Web-based and Desktop Case Management Systems: be familiar with top cloud-based programs like Clio, and desktop systems like PracticeMaster. You may not be a “master,” but more small firms and solo practitioners (those people you’ll be working for) are using these systems. I will jump for joy when I discover you’re familiar with my system, and I can spend time training you to use the deeper functions, rather than just the simple ones.
  4. Online Legal Research: be able to use online resources to find basic information. I’m sorry, we don’t have Westlaw or LexisNexis access, so you’ll have to find your information in some other way. I know, it sucks. There’s a great website, in case you haven’t heard, where you can find a lot of information about nearly everything. It’s sometimes messy, but it’s reliable. Please, use that before spinning your wheels for 3 hours on some meaningless “law” site.
  5. Scanning and Faxing: be able to scan documents and transfer them into a file system or other document management system. Since we’re still relegated to faxing (after all, it’s still 1987), you should know how to use a fax machine (yes, we still have to dial 1 plus the area code to call a long-distance number).
  6. Basic File and Folder Structures: know and understand how folder systems are structured, where to look to find files and folders on a server or file management system, and be able to search for the information if you can’t find it. Both Windows and Mac OS have excellent search functions, if you use them.
  7. Blogs and Social Media: you’re probably already familiar with some of these, but you should be able to navigate and follow law and non-law related blogs and social media sites. Follow what or whom I follow, so we can discuss innovations, events, or potential harmful rulings. Oh, by the way, you probably ought to follow me too.

Obviously, the list could probably continue ad infinitum (and we’ll get to that later). The fact is though, you should remember, my time is my money, and your time is my money; so, the less I work for you, the longer you’ll work for me. Who knows, there might even be a position waiting for you at the end of this short journey.

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In much of continental Europe, the term school usually applies to primary education, with primary schools that last between four and nine years, depending on the country.

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