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Law Schools Must Pick Up Mentoring Slack, Dean Says

By Matt Masich, LAW WEEK COLORADO

DENVER — It’s increasingly up to law schools to provide the on-the-job mentoring that was once provided by law firms, says Dean Martin Katz of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Law schools have traditionally taught basic knowledge like torts and contracts, he said, without teaching as much about procedure and even less about professionalism.

“It’s easy enough to get out of law school without a whole lot of knowledge about procedure,” Katz said Saturday at the Faculty of Federal Advocates’ annual roundtable discussion with federal judges and magistrates.

“I literally did not know what a deposition was” when he got out of law school, he said. Katz graduated from Yale Law School in 1991 and clerked with 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Ebel before joining Davis Graham & Stubbs. “I couldn’t have practiced law to save my life. But I got fairly lucky — I went to a firm that was fairly committed to teaching me to be a lawyer.”

By the time he was a second-year associate, he felt he was ready for basic federal practice. But that model of training at law firms depends on the assumption that both lawyers and clients would remain at a law firm for a long time, Katz said. Those assumptions no longer hold true.

“Some firms still are committed to mentoring, but more and more young lawyers are going into solo practice,” he said.

Law schools must figure out how to pick up the slack. One way is to offer more law clinics, which give law students firsthand experience but are also the most expensive way to teach. Law schools can also increase their mentoring programs.

DU added three clinicians last year, one this year and plans to add three more in the next four years, Katz said, and is devising a five-year mentoring program for its students that will stretch into their first two years after graduation.

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