A Bit about Us…
We met in Barcelona, Spain at the 50th Annual AIJA Congress and have since kept in touch. Melanie works in Texas, USA and Montse in Barcelona, Spain (Catalonia). Although at first glance young lawyers around the world have differences, we live within similar realities. Through our similarities and differences, we have developed a strong friendship, out of which this article developed.
The current state of the legal profession for all lawyers – not just recent graduates and junior lawyers – is difficult. We are a global bar of competent, skilled individuals. But as AIJA Immediate Past President Thierry Aballéa recently acknowledged during a panel on professional organizations (Spring 2013 Meeting of the American Bar Association (ABA) – Section of International Law), securing employment within the legal profession is a real issue affecting junior and senior lawyers alike.
For young lawyers, however, gaining access to the legal profession is especially challenging because we are still growing in our knowledge and skills. We have demonstrated our abilities to learn the law, but we desperately seek the opportunities to apply this knowledge. And because of our enthusiasm to relate, grow, and help, the profession needs us now more than ever to continue changing and improving. But how, given the current limited access to the profession? The answer is to start building genuine relationships – based on the foundation of acquired legal knowledge and skills – as soon as possible.
Law school . . .
Access to the profession should begin in those three years of law school. Here, law students can take on leadership and volunteer roles to increase visibility among professors, peers, and experienced lawyers in their communities. Involvement does not have to be exclusively local. Law students can take advantage of discounted rates to become student members of professional legal and other community organizations. Law students can seek out scholarships to help finance trips to networking and leadership events. However, signing up for an opportunity should reflect a genuine interest to become involved in a cause or subject matter. Asking law professors for help connecting to those they may know in a particular area of interest and being willing to help when a need arises are good ways to stand out. Even dedicating a small portion of time may help a law student get attention early on that can help to keep a law student top-of-mind for a more experienced lawyer later on.
. . . and beyond
Internships and clerkships within the US and abroad are important stepping stones from studies to practice for law students and recent graduates. These websites can help connect law students and young lawyers to internship opportunities. Search functions allow for locating an ideal place to obtain experience depending on size, location, practice areas, language, etc.
In the US, several law graduates struggle with access to the profession especially while waiting for bar exam results. Some good ways to get started in the profession post-bar exam are by attending continuing legal education events, local or state bar association gatherings or conferences, and other legal and community organizations’ events.
For junior lawyers, opportunities continue to abound. Ideas include seeking out volunteer opportunities (i.e. seasonal or annual meetings) or leadership positions within the ABA (i.e. the ABA’s leadership portal), local and state bar associations (i.e. Texas Young Lawyers Association), and other community-based organizations (i.e. Dallas Hispanic Bar Association, Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Spain-Texas Chamber of Commerce, etc.). Opportunities to increase visibility for young lawyers include organizing and presenting on panels, assisting a senior lawyer with a law-review article or other research, volunteering at a local legal clinic, etc.
In the US, access to the profession should start early and be genuine. In-person interactions are best to foster meaningful relationships with new colleagues, but having a professional online presence is important, too. For example, How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile . . . And 18 Mistakes to Avoid (available on Amazon.com) is an easy-to-follow guide for anyone looking to quickly enhance his or her online readiness to compete for employment in the legal profession.
The issue of access to the profession for young and recently graduated lawyers in Spain is also experiencing a critical moment. So many new graduates in Spain cannot find a way to begin to practice law in professional firms earning a fixed salary. Some decide to start working on their own; some begin gaining experience as interns; and others choose to study for public exams to work as civil servants, etc.
In Spain, a law degree requires about four years of studying (five years at some universities), and most universities teach law in a very theoretical way. Because of this, after finishing legal studies, graduates may choose to study at the School of Legal Practice (La Escuela de Práctica Jurídica), where they can complete a Master’s degree with the aim of preparing recent graduates for the practice of law.
Practical Skills Training
The Spanish Law of Access to the Legal Profession (Ley 34/2006 sobre el acceso a las profesiones de Abogado y Procurador de los Tribunales) set out the content and regulations of this Master’s degree focused on obtaining practical skills for the legal profession.
The Law, which came into force on October 31, 2011, states that to obtain the professional title of lawyer, a person must complete the following requirements:
- Have the degree or graduate degree in law;
- Prove successful completion of a specialized training course;
- Overcome an aptitude test.
The Master’s degree also consists of supervised external practices, which represent approximately 30 additional credits. Future lawyers may obtain experience by practicing in courts as prosecutors or working in professional offices, prisons, or in the health or social-services sectors.
My own experience was with the Bar Association in Terrassa (Barcelona), where the classes were theoretical and practical. My classes included trial preparation and simulation as well as other collateral disciplines such as ethics, psychology, mediation, and arbitration. These skills-based courses helped to prepare me to be practice-ready after finishing.
Social Activities and Networking
For young lawyers in Spain, access to the profession also requires more than just acquiring legal education and skills. It is also very important to develop a good social network – not only of potential clients but also of other colleagues. In each Bar Association in Spain there exists a Young Lawyers Group. These Groups focus on providing young-lawyer participants with relevant courses, interactive meetings, and social dinners to promote positive relationships among young lawyers just beginning to practice law.
For those interested in learning more about professional networking for young lawyers in Spain, these websites may be of interest:
In conclusion, both in the USA and Spain, young people reaching the end of law school must deal with the uncertainty of the current legal market with a serious attitude toward personal and professional development. Now is the moment to start building genuine relationships as soon as possible to take advantage of our unique generation of new technologies that allow us to create better, wider networks. During law school and beyond is the time to continue working to improve our skills and learning each day with optimism, effort, and passion to create more productive and fruitful relationships with our colleagues and potential clients. We are the future of the legal profession, and we need to recognize our critical position and opportunity to contribute our talents in the forms of knowledge, skills, and relationships like never before.
Written by Montse Pujol & Melanie Glover