To the editor:
I am writing to bring your attention, and the attention of your readers, to a proposal currently being made by the Utah Bar Association to the Utah Supreme Court.The Bar Association is proposing a "bridge the gap" program ostensibly designed to increase the competence of newly admitted members of the Bar.
This program would require new lawyers, after passing the Bar examination, to attend one week of practical instruction before being admitted to the Bar, and would condition their admission on attending 10 of 12 monthly seminars in the year following. These seminars would be short, perhaps three hours each, and would deal with a wide range of topics ranging from criminal law to family law, business law, etc.
The Bar in this state has an image problem: people are fed up with incompetent and corrupt lawyers. The "bridge the gap" program is a Band-Aid attempt to fix the problem.
Complaints are no more numerous against new lawyers than old; in fact, the reverse is true. Despite that fact, "bridge the gap" does nothing to assure competence beyond the first year of practice.
Such an effort is somewhat misplaced. Most experienced lawyers would acknowledge that their competence was broadest right after law school. After years of practicing law, most have specialized to some degree.
How would "bridge the gap" increase the competence of these new lawyers? With a total of less than 75 hours of instruction. After three years in law school and, for most law students, significant experience working with practicing lawyers during the summer and part-time during the school year, 75 hours of mandatory instruction would not seem to make a momentous difference. What are the consequences for failure to participate in the program? Disbarment.
If the Bar Association wants to increase competence, let it do so across the board by disciplining incompetent lawyers. We have ethical rules; they need to be rigorously enforced. Disbarring a new lawyer for failing to attend classes will not help; disbarring any lawyer who acts incompetently will help.
Programs such as "bridge the gap" have a place. Opportunities should be provided for those lawyers who need instruction in a particular area. Mandatory instruction in all areas only for first-year lawyers does not fill that need appropriately. Let's provide instruction as needed, and discipline those lawyers, whether new or experienced, who act incompetently.
Third-year law student
University of Utah