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April 17, 2014

Colorado innov conference: Critical Competencies for the New Normal

by Dan Rodriguez

Panelists: Deborah Cantrell, Prof at Colorado; Neil Hamilton, Prof at St. Thomas; Paul Lippe, CEO at Legal OnRamp; Mark Roellig, Gen Counsel at MassMutual Life Ins.  Moderator: Helen Norton, Associate Dean at Colorado.

Paul Lippe [PL]:  World of law firms is the world of camera companies (analogize Kodak v. IPhone).  Value that private lawyers are providing is declining relative to most other fields, and that’s a problem.  On the other hand, the value of the rule of law has never been higher.  Law schools can choose.  They can become the IPhone; or they can say, well, it was fine being Nikon; why not just stay doing what we are doing.

PL:  law firms are not infinitely wise and sagacious.  Law school must look more capaciously at the world.  When you do so, it is obvious that it will be design thinking, and a new reality.  Coalition of the willing is a plurality, but not a majority in the law schools.

Neil Hamilton [NH]:  Expert-based professionals have been quite slow to change (perhaps excepting medicine, given radical changes to the market and to regulation).  Business friends think that legal educ and higher ed in general doesn’t survey folks to see what they want.  Surveys of firms list, in order, these key competencies:     1. Integrity/honesty/trustworthiness; 2. good judgment/common sense/problem solving; 3. analytical skills;  4. initiative/ambition/drive; 5. effective written/oral communication skills; 6. dedication to client service; 7. commitment to firm; 8. initiates and maintains strong work and team relationships.

NH:  least important, according to survey:  17. stress/crisis management; 18. leadership; 19. negotiation skills; 20. pro bono/community involvement.

Mark Roellig [MR]:  skills he views as necessary:  1. getting good results; 2. judgment; 3. strong work ethic; 4. communication skills; 5. strategic thinking; 6. teamwork; 7. efficient use of resources (decommodification/decoupling); 8. use of technology; 9. talent management; 10. environment of engagement.

Deborah Cantrell [DC]:  Practical wisdom (hat tip to Aristotle).  Competencies aren’t static; they change over time.  Practical wisdom is important to understanding the particularities of the issue before them.  Often in law schools we have seen practical wisdom as equivalent to professional responsibility and ethics.  But should be seen in more dynamic sense.

How can law schools specifically teach these competencies?

DC:  very hopeful that law profs can do this well.  Think, for example, of clinics in this regard.

MR:  Making effective, productive decisions in a multifaceted setting.  What are the elements of a good decision?  identifying what is the problem; get the right information; determine the facts & trends; critically evaluate the goals, obstacles, and responses; need to understand impact on multiple constituencies.  Right legal answer is not always the right answer.  Avoid immediate impulses; know what is socially right and wrong; know when to escalate a decision; and, frankly, your decision has to solve the problem; balance the degree of uncertainty compared to the certainty.

NH:  We should be sharing what we are learning.

PL:  a primary identification of lawyers and law students is the federal judge.  This a model of insulated folks with a high level of discretion and distance.  This doesn’t reflect much of what actually goes on in legal practice.  Law schools are structured to resist feedback.  In, say, medicine, the feedback look re patient care is much more efficient.


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