At the University of Texas, I received a legal education. That is, I acquired knowledge about how to analyze the law in an academic setting. I learned how to determine whether a case was good law, how to criticize an opinion written by an appellate court, and how to determine whether a particular person’s conduct met the definition of a tort.
What I didn’t receive – and what I probably wouldn’t have received at any other law school – was training on how to actually do the day-to-day things that lawyers do. Thus, I had no idea how to…
– Evaluate whether a contingent fee case was worth taking
– Calm a nervous client who is about to give a deposition
– Deal with an opposing attorney who is obstreperous and angry
– Handle a personnel problem in the office
– Organize my day
– Write a decent business letter
Sometimes people call themselves “trained professionals” – but with the emphasis that our schools place on educating professionals, I wonder whether that phrase isn’t becoming an oxymoron.
This problem isn’t limited to attorneys. I suspect doctors get very little advice on how to run a medical practice, that accountants get little help understanding how to deal with a client who is lying about their bookkeeping practices, and that doctoral candidates who are bound for tenure at major universities actually learn how to teach their subject to teenagers and young adults.
Ministers, likewise, suffer the same problems. They learn theology, biblical languages, and church history on the road to their diploma, but virtually nothing about how to stay organized, how to communicate with people, how to identify and hire good help, how to delegate responsiblity, or how to conduct a meeting. The result is that the often find themselves overwhelmed with the day-to-day aspects of “running” their church.
Having now spent the better part of a second decade in the real world, I am beginning to think that professional training may be just as important as professional education. Success isn’t usually determined by one’s academic prowess, but by management and communication skills. A pastor who almost flunked out of seminary will be ten times better than one who aced every course if he know how to carry on conversations that convey what he does know in easy, readily accesible terms.
So what is the problem here? I appreciate the traditions of our colleges and universities, where academic excellence is the ultimate goal, but shouldn’t these institutions also be concerned about equipping their students in a way that helps them to be effective practitioners in their fields?