Geis Advises Students to Hone Skills for Changing Legal Environment

September 10, 2009

Law school graduates will enter changed law firms and corporations as a result of the economic crisis, but there are ways young lawyers can position themselves for success, Professor George Geis said Monday.

George Geis
George Geis

Geis, who kicked off this year's J.B. Moore Society of International Law's Faculty Speaker Series, spoke about the recent financial crisis and its likely impact on corporate law reform. He offered advice on how students can best position themselves to enter a job market just emerging from an economic crisis.

Clients are demanding that law firms be better managed, and that they adopt a more practical billing model to replace the traditional hourly system, Geis said. Law students and young attorneys can prepare themselves to meet these changing client demands by focusing on practical skills outside the legal realm.

"There's going to be a premium on really good management of projects, " he said. "I think these new business model pressures — these client pressures — are going to change the way law firms need to manage themselves internally. Gaining skills that allow you to do a better job of managing will really position you nicely down the road of your career. Take a class like Corporate Strategy or Corporate Finance."

Geis told the students to pursue their passions, and forgo taking classes only because they are expected to become popular legal specializations.

"Don't do something that's not exciting to you because you think it's going to be the hot area," he said. "Conversely, don't shy away from something you're really excited about because you think there's not going to be work there. Look at mergers and acquisitions — if that's something that's really exciting to you, it's coming back."

Finally, Geis encouraged students to specialize earlier in their careers than they may traditionally have done.

Though the global economy appears to be recovering, Geis warned that the danger of relapse is not past. While certain areas, like stocks and the credit market, seem to be recovering, other areas are struggling. The housing market is still in peril, he said, citing the high number of foreclosures and mortgage rate resets still occurring. Banks are still failing, and unemployment rates are precariously high.

When the financial crisis began, Geis said he was afraid there would be "knee-jerk" reactions to address the situation. Now, a year later, he said there is still impetus for change in some areas, while other areas that could benefit from change will likely be neglected.

"I think we're in a really different situation when it comes to financial reform. I think of it like there was a lot of energy and then we went into this hibernation mode, and we got refocused on healthcare," he said. "Yet, on the back burner, there's still all this financial reform legislation that's been proposed."

Geis predicted that changes are in store for consumer protections, corporate governance and executive compensations, while the areas of institutional harmony regulation, retirement plans and the growing national debt are likely to remain unaddressed.

Though law school graduates will be walking into a changed industry, Geis assured students that the world will always need lawyers.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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