The heavy emphasis that most law schools place upon teaching students to “think like a lawyer” sometimes obscures the fact that the legal profession requires more than just a theoretical understanding of how the law works. Practical skills are vital to the successful practice of law, so it is imperative that students seek out opportunities to build those skills before graduation.
One of the most common complaints from legal employers is that new JDs emerge from their alma maters lacking the ability to draft the most basic contracts or to draw up a simple will. Even if you do not intend to focus on transactional law, as an attorney, legal drafting should be one of the arrows in your quiver, so make sure to add at least one such class to your schedule. Many law schools even offer drafting classes for specific areas of law, and if you can find one that applies to your intended practice area, you will stand out to potential employers.
With the increased emphasis on settlements these days, most lawyers will spend more time taking depositions and only rarely seeing a case go to trial. Look for courses that will help you develop the skills necessary to take and defend depositions so you will be able to assist supervising attorneys right out of the gate.
E-discovery is another area that law firms are struggling with, so any exposure that you can gain while still in school is both valuable and marketable.
If you are considering going solo, you should also consider taking a basic accounting course designed to help you deal with the financial aspects of running a legal practice. Some law schools have begun to offer accounting for the solo practice courses, or even more comprehensive courses that can guide you through the process of becoming established as a solo practitioner, so save room in your schedule for that.
Negotiation and mediation classes are also very useful in that they typically allow you to participate in simulations that will help you learn to get the best deals for your future clients.
Finally, if your school does not require you to take a course or seminar in client counseling you should consider adding one to your schedule. Dealing with clients is an art in itself, and requires lots of practice, so make sure you can handle yourself and keep your clients happy.
However you choose to complete your legal studies, make sure you are able to think like a lawyer and act like a lawyer as well!