UCLSAA: On the Importance of Attorney Apprenticeship

Edgar Aguilasocho
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law

Sooner or later we must all graduate. But, as many of us have begun to realize, when we graduate from law school our career options are exactly the same as they have been for a long time. I call them the four paths: firm associate, judicial clerk, legal fellow, or government lawyer. Why is that a problem? I see at least two reasons.

First, the four paths tend to be considered elite and extremely selective. Unless you are in the top 10-25% of the class, chances are you will have trouble landing any of those gigs. Judges and big firms tend to hire the top ten percent, ranked academically. Foundations tend to fund a very small number of legal fellows. And government positions are difficult to acquire without going through an honors program or post-graduate clerkship. By design, most law students will not get these jobs.

Second (and more importantly), not everyone wants those jobs. Even among the top ten percent of any given class, there will be law students who are not attracted to the four paths. Some law students may have come to law school with the expectation of becoming an elite lawyer but changed their mind. Others may have come to law school with a certain conception of what it means to be a lawyer and were disappointed. After all, law schools attract independent thinkers but the four paths are paved in stone.

What seems to be missing is a fifth path: attorney apprenticeship. Oddly enough, it was once the main path but has since grown over. Many law students would love nothing more than to graduate and immediately open a small practice or solo firm. Some are drawn to the idea of being their own boss. Others see solo practice as a way of providing low-cost legal services to underserved communities. The truth of the matter is that only about 5% of recent graduates go solo while nearly 50% of all private attorneys in the United States end up being solo practitioners. Clearly, a large number of recent law graduates would like to go solo but do not feel like they have the requisite experience or support. It would seem that the days when a law student would learn the trade by working directly for a private attorney are long gone.

Not so. Recently, the National Law Journal published an article called “Incubators Give Birth to Flocks of Solo Practitioners.” The article documents the growing success of the Incubator for Justice at CUNY Law. A couple of weeks ago, the director of the CUNY Incubator, Fred Rooney, came to UCI Law to discuss the possibility of an incubator with representatives from the Development office, Career Development, Pro Bono, the Legal Clinics, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, and the newly formed UC Law Students for Attorney Apprenticeship (UCLSAA). As a result of that meeting, UCLSAA has been tasked with creating a poll to gauge student interest in an Attorney Incubator at UCI Law.

The title of this article is “On the Importance of Attorney Apprenticeship.” Perhaps a more apt title would be “On the Importance of Filling Out the Survey on Attorney Apprenticeship You Should Be Getting Any Day Now.” If UCI Law launches an Attorney Incubator in 2012 (which is a real possibility), we will be among the first law schools in the country to have such a program. More importantly for us as students: if UCI Law launches an Attorney Incubator in 2012, we will be paving the fifth path.