Desiree Moore is the founder and President of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Ms. Moore is an Adjunct Professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates LLP (formerly Bell, Boyd & Lloyd, LLP) in Chicago for six years. In 2011, Desiree left K&L Gates to launch Greenhorn Legal.
Greenhorn Legal offers intensive training courses for law students and new lawyers to help them transition from law school into private practice. The aim is to equip new lawyers with the personal skills, practical skills, and business sense to succeed in a law firm from day one. Greenhorn Legal hosts open courses for law students and new lawyers and also contracts with law firms and law schools to put on customized training programs that meet the firms’ and schools’ particular needs.
MO: How did you identify the need in the legal community for a practical skills training program for new lawyers?
Desiree: As a young practitioner coming out of law school and into a law firm, it occurred to me right away that I was not equipped to practice law. Despite having done well in law school and having passed the bar, I did not have the tools or skills at my disposal to help me navigate a daily law firm practice. It was frustrating, actually, to show up for work every day and feel like I was not contributing in a meaningful way. Because of this, as a more senior associate in my law firm, I took on the role of training our summer associates and new lawyers as they transitioned into the firm. Later, when my firm merged with another, larger law firm, I was appointed to the associate training committee. Working with our new associates confirmed that, coming out of law school, irrespective of the school, new lawyers are universally not prepared to practice law. As an adjunct professor of various practitioner courses, I also work closely with law students who, despite excelling in their coursework, may not have any idea how to navigate a professional environment, much less actually practice law. It was a compilation of these experiences that led me to the conclusion that there was a need in the legal community for a comprehensive practical skills training program for new lawyers.
MO: If there has been such an immense need for a company like Greenhorn Legal why do you think that it hasn’t been done before?
Desiree: This is a great question, and something that I thought a lot about as I launched my program. The legal community universally agrees that new lawyers are not prepared to actually practice law. (And this has come to the attention of the non-legal community, as well. In recent months, the mainstream media – New York Times, Wall Street Journal – has weighed in on the “new lawyer dilemma” – new lawyers incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt in law school but are not prepared to practice law.) But there is little agreement as to the best solution.
Some are of the opinion that law schools should revamp their curricula entirely so that law students are exposed to practical skills in the course of a law school education. Others believe the responsibility falls on the law firms to train the new lawyers. Others still want to identify problems with the various proposed solutions without offering solutions of their own.
Over the years, some law schools have integrated practical skills courses and practitioner-style clinics into their curricula. And some law firms have developed in-house training programs that draw on internal resources and outside trainers to help prepare their new lawyers to practice. But these are isolated responses and, generally speaking, the programs tend to be topical or narrow in scope. To my knowledge, before Greenhorn Legal, no one even contemplated a uniform, comprehensive, widespread solution for law students and new lawyers everywhere.
For me, the solution is simple. Many of the skills new lawyers are lacking are foundational in nature and can be taught in an intensive, boot camp style program. We have bundled, or codified, in a sense, the new lawyer experience, and we are giving new lawyers specific techniques and methodologies they can implement right away to ensure success in their practice. Greenhorn Legal is doing for new lawyers what exam preparation courses have done for aspiring college and graduate students for years. We are preparing new lawyers to master the biggest test of their lives: their profession.
MO: Why aren’t law students ready to practice law and what are you teaching them to ensure that they’re significantly more prepared?
Desiree: Law students are not prepared to practice law because, on the whole, that is not the function of a law school education. Law school prepares students to think like lawyers. Law school does not – and does not claim to – teach new lawyers how to actually practice law. In other words, law students have little-to-no exposure to the practice of law until they start their jobs. Also, many law students go directly from their undergraduate schools to law school, without ever having exposure to a professional setting. So, coming out of law school, not only are law students not prepared to practice law, they are not prepared to work in a corporate environment. Likewise, on the whole, law firms cannot afford to invest the time and resources necessary to provide comprehensive practical skills training for their new lawyers. Even where law firms have in-house training departments, generally speaking, the training is disjointed and ineffective. In short, neither law schools nor law firms are undertaking the initiative to adequately train new lawyers. This is what makes Greenhorn Legal unique.
Our programs take a comprehensive, holistic approach to training new lawyers. We have spent thousands of hours developing content – the content is based on both the personal law firm experiences of the Greenhorn Legal instructors and in-depth interviews with practicing attorneys from a wide variety of practices. We work closely with our instructors to ensure our teaching styles and methodologies are consistent across all of our programs, as well. Our goal is to orient new lawyers, manage their expectations, help them assimilate into a corporate environment, and equip them with a fundamental understanding of the practice of law. We teach new lawyers how to comport themselves in a professional environment, work with administrative assistants, work in a team, stay organized and manage time, build relationships and find mentors, and draft emails and letters in a professional context. We also do in-depth litigation and transactional specific training, including how to draft motions, make court appearances, perform due diligence, and contribute to corporate deals, among other things. Finally, we train new lawyers in contemporary ethical considerations, how to market a legal practice, and how to stay centered, healthy, and happy despite what can be a demanding career.
MO: How hard has it been to take the leap from being an attorney in an international law firm to becoming an independent small business owner with a concept that has been first to market?
Desiree: It has been incredibly difficult, but exciting, too. It was difficult to walk away from my practice, which I had dedicated myself entirely to for years. It was difficult to walk away from the safety of working for a huge, established corporation where, in a sense, everything is taken care of for you. Your job is to show up every day and get your work done. The rest is someone else’s responsibility. An administrative assistant, around the clock IT support, unlimited office supplies, a weekly pay check – all of those things are wonderful and unfortunately, you don’t get to take them with you when you leave.
Still, I had always wanted to start my own business and the Greenhorn Legal concept had been on my mind for years. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try. And, since I launched Greenhorn Legal, I have met incredible people and have had doors and opportunities open for me that never would have come had I stayed behind the safety of my desk. The possibilities are endless when you develop your own business. There are no rules. And there is a depth to your working life that I don’t think you can capture in quite the same way when you are working for someone else.
Being first to the market is a unique position to be in. At first glance, it sounds ideal. Everyone is afraid of competition and the one thing you do not have when you are first to the market is competition. But, in reality, carving out a market and convincing people to join you, building a “tribe,” as Seth Godin teaches, is a huge project. It can be discouraging, too – if someone is not interested in your product or service when you are first to the market, it can feel personal. They are not rejecting an industry, they are rejecting you. That’s tough. Very early on, when I was in the idea phase, my business mentor, Michael Bosworth, founder of the highly successful Solution Selling, Customer Centric, and Story Leaders programs, told me that he thought the best thing that could happen for Greenhorn Legal was a competitor. At the time, the thought terrified me but now I see exactly what he meant!
In the end, in any business endeavor, there are obstacles. We work through obstacles on a daily basis. But, if you have a business concept you believe in, and if you know that you have the ability to self-motivate and keep at it day after day in the face of whatever obstacles are thrown at you, it is incredibly rewarding to build something from the ground up.
MO: Why are you making a significant portion of your content available for free?
Desiree: My objective, above all, is to help new lawyers assimilate and integrate into their law firms. And I want to reach as many people as possible. By providing free content on my weekly newsletter and blog (www.greenhornlegal.com/blog), I am connecting with many more people than I would be otherwise. There are so many lessons to share. I could give away free content daily for years and still not exhaust all of the content we have come up with to enhance the new lawyer experience for law students and the law firms that hire them.
MO: What can we expect from Greenhorn Legal in 2012?
Desiree: 2012 is going to be an exciting year for Greenhorn Legal. In upcoming months, we are moving all of the content from our live courses on-line in the form of e-courses and webinars. Law students and new lawyers will know our site as the go-to reference for practical skills training as they navigate the first years of their practice. By request, we will also be rolling out training programs on professionalism, mentoring, and relationship building for non-lawyers. We are also doing a lot of writing and I think you’ll see our work out there in print before the end of 2012, as well.
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