Grantee Research

Foundations for Practice: Hiring the Whole Lawyer: Experience Matters

Document Type

Issue/Research Brief/Blog

Publication Date



legal employment, experiential learning, legal externships, legal clinics


In July 2016, we published Foundations for Practice: The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient, which shared findings from a survey that asked more than 24,000 lawyers what new lawyers need as they enter the profession. Respondents overwhelmingly indicated that new lawyers need characteristics, alongside professional competencies and legal skills (collectively, “foundations”). New lawyers, it turns out, are successful when they can demonstrate much more than their intelligence and legal competency. We called the new lawyer who can demonstrate this combination of characteristics, competencies, and skills the “whole lawyer.”

If we want new lawyers to develop the requisite foundations, we of course need law schools to commit to admitting, educating, and graduating students who can demonstrate they have those foundations. We also need employers to commit to hiring new lawyers based on their demonstration of those foundations—rather than mainly academic achievement.

How can employers hire new lawyers who have the desired foundations? This report provides answers.

In our survey, we asked respondents to identify the foundations new lawyers need to be successful in the respondent’s specific type of organization, specialty, or department. Then we asked them to consider the helpfulness of a set of hiring criteria in determining whether a candidate for employment has the foundations they identified as important. Notably, we did not ask them how they currently hire. We effectively asked how they would hire if they wanted to identify candidates with the necessary foundations.

We learned that experience matters. While many employers in practice still rely on criteria like class rank, law school, and law review, our respondents indicated that if they wanted to hire people with the broad array of foundations they identified as important, they would rely on criteria rooted in experience, including legal employment, recommendations from practitioners or judges, legal externships, participation in a law school clinic, and other experiential education.

In The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient, we recommended that law schools and the profession work together to ensure that new lawyers have the foundations they need to practice. Our findings here give them a place to start. While we do not believe there is only one way to ensure new lawyers have the foundations they need to be whole lawyers, we do believe the path toward a system that prepares lawyers who are ready to enter the profession will be elevated and supported by experience-focused learning and hiring.


Related research:

Alli Gerkman & Logan Cornett, Foundations for Practice: The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient (2016),