When University of Missouri Law School graduate Alyson Carrel first heard about a three-week legal “boot camp” to be held in Chicago in May, and its curriculum offering in-house training, she did not expect a big draw.
“We weren’t sure our students would be interested,” said Carrel, now the assistant dean of Law and Technology Initiatives at Northwestern University. “But there was tons of interest.”
The boot camp is an ongoing experiment by the Institute for the Future of Law Practice, a.k.a. IFLP (which its members pronounce as “eye flip”). IFLP is a nascent network of legal professionals across the country trying to tackle a problem: the vast majority of law schools don’t equip graduates with the tools to understand the businesses for which they’ll be working.
So, in cooperation with Northwestern, the University of Colorado, Indiana University and Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada, IFLP organized its first boot camp this year.
In mid-May, a total of 24 students from those four institutions converged on Northwestern for the basic-track boot camp. It entailed three weeks of intensive training in four modules: “Introduction to In-House Practice,” “Business Fundamentals,” “Practical Legal Skills,” and “Tech Industry.” After the boot camp, each student began working a 10-week paid internship. All of this earns them academic credit.
The prospect of law students getting legal-department training before leaving school thrills in-house attorneys in Missouri.
“That sounds incredibly exciting,” said Philip Kirkpatrick, the St. Louis-based regional general counsel of Rabobank North America, who oversees approximately 14 employees in a legal department of 35 members. As things stand, he said, he doesn’t typically hire recent law-school graduates. He prefers to wait until graduates have three to five years of experience before he absorbs them into his shop – and even then, they need to adjust.
“I’d be first to admit that my first day at a law firm, I didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing,” he said. “Then you move in-house, and it’s like ‘This is completely different.’”
The boot camp’s in-house training involves learning about efficiency metrics, key cost drivers and ways to control them, best practices in using outside counsel, leveraging tech to eliminate tasks entirely and calculating return-on-investment.
Dan Linna, another Northwestern law professor who ran the May boot camp, said one of the most unique parts of the training came in the group exercise. Clusters of students focused on a hypothetical scenario in which a company needed to reorganize its legal department to address needs in the areas of mergers-and-acquisitions, intellectual property, commercial contracts and litigation. The groups then presented their solutions the following day “shark-tank-style” to a six-person panel of real in-house professionals.
“They grilled them,” Linna said. “They were tough but fair. That kind of interaction is missing in law school. I don’t want to suggest that three-week boot camps give students everything they need to know. We’ve just started to scratch the surface on remedying this problem. But IFLP should be part of the solution.”
IFLP’s executive team includes Katie DeBord, chief innovation officer at St. Louis-headquartered Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, and Jayne Reardon, executive director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission. Other team members include global corporate legal officers from Archer Daniels Midland, Shell and Cisco Systems.
One of IFLP’s founders, Prof. Bill Henderson of the University of Indiana, is hopeful that they can scale out the program by involving more law schools. He said the boot camp is revenue-neutral for the schools. Thanks to the program’s sponsors, which include Cisco, the credit company Elevate and the national law firm Chapman and Cutler, students don’t pay on top of their regular tuition to get the academic credit. In addition, students get an internship that’s not just busywork.
“It’s very hard for the students to get paid employment that’s educationally enriching,” Henderson said, “so our thought was, ‘Now’s a time we can teach them all these skills by in-house legal departments.’”
Beth Minogue, assistant general counsel for Post Holdings, Inc. in St. Louis, said this kind of training is a potential boon to both employer and employee.
“In the in-house world, frankly a lot of companies are not geared toward being able to train students right out of law school,” said Minogue. “The more practical knowledge you can give law students, the better.”