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The Reality of Study of the Law

published March 05, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 3 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
What you’ll need in the Long Run? If the 20 to 40 year horizon makes no sense, how about the notion that law schools are really trying to teach you the things you'll need to be a good attorney five or 10 years after graduation?
I ask you to consider two options. In the first one, law school plants a time bomb in your brain. You graduate from law school, you enter your first job, and you feel like you've had a lobotomy. You know nothing, you remember nothing. You survive the first five years by sheer luck.

The Reality of Study of the Law

And then, after five years, shazam! Suddenly the time bomb goes off. You smack yourself and say, "Wow! Now I understand what they were telling me in law school!"

It's possible, right? Not too likely, but possible.

Maybe it does happen once in a while. But my classmates and I are now in the middle of that five to ten year stretch and I don't see too many of us getting zonked with long submerged insights. Chances are, if you haven't used it for five years, you're not going to remember it when you need it.

Besides, during those five years, while law school was becoming a fading memory, you were spending every day working with lawyers and learning all kinds of things about the law. It's asking a lot, I think, to expect a long lost bit of knowledge from law school to suddenly arise and make itself seem half as relevant as the nitty gritty of your daily struggle.

As far as I can tell, the only way in which law school can give you meaningful preparation is to start you out on the right foot and teach you enough to keep you going in the proper direction. If you find that things have begun to make sense after five or ten years of practice, surely it's because you've been a good boy or girl, learning and doing like you're supposed to and not because your ancient law school lore has miraculously sprung to life.

In short, it sounds suspicious to talk about how law school gives you long term career training. Lawyers, of all people, know better than to talk about the distant future while neglecting immediate needs.

What you’ll need in Your First Job?

When you squelch law schools from talking about the 10 year horizon and ask, instead, how well you're being prepared for the job that starts next month or next year, it's a different ballgame. Suddenly it's much easier to see whether you're getting the training you paid for. If your education doesn't match your employer's needs, you just won't fit.

Now, remember, we already noted that law school doesn't even try to give you practical training. So if you eat like a pig during a sensitive business luncheon, or don't know when to shut up, or if you alienate everyone in the office, or can't get the hang of writing a simple memo for the files, it's just your employer's tough luck. Law school is an academic matter.
So how do attorneys feel about the academic subjects that drove them to despair during the first year of law school? Well, according to that study of lawyers in Chicago, the only law school course endorsed by more than 25 percent of the attorneys as being "particularly helpful" to their practice of law was contracts. Torts? Only 24 percent. Constitutional law? Only 16 percent. Trusts and estates? 10 percent.

Ah, but there's a response. This thing of academic learning is not just limited to academic subjects. When people begin to complain that their academic courses are irrelevant to their future careers, law schools quickly offer another concept, as suggested by these words:

Years ago, the law schools turned inward and came to regard their educational responsibilities as complete upon imparting to the neophyte the basic education of learning to "think like a lawyer"

And there you have it, my first mention of the famous, mystical concept of "thinking like a lawyer." The basic idea seems to be that your time in law school will give you this intangible mental quality you lacked before.

To teach you to "think like a lawyer," law school has to give you two things. First, they must teach you some academic law, so that you'll have something to think about. Not much of it, because you don't know a lot of details other than possibly in one area of specialization when you graduate. And the academic law won't necessarily be in the same subjects as your classmates might study, except for those few courses that everyone has to take. Thus, one classmate of mine could concentrate on tax law, and another could concentrate on the law of China, and as long as they both passed the bar exam and were admitted to practice, we'd have to call them both lawyers.

And second, law school must give you a perspective, or a set of attitudes, that help you talk to other lawyers in a way that's not so easy with non-lawyers. An example of such an attitude: the ability to accept that lawyers sometimes take positions without necessarily believing in them personally. Another example: the view that it's good for lawyers to do so. A third example: the belief that questions of emotion must not be permitted to overrule conclusions of logic. I'm not saying that any of these attitudes are bad. I'm only saying that you'll see how important they are when, as a lawyer, you find yourself glancing at your watch while talking to an upset client about a legal problem that's ruining his/her life.

There are a lot of those attitudes. But not all lawyers accept all of them, any more than all lawyers study all the same areas of law. Nobody bothers to do an inventory on you, to see whether you've swallowed the right ones before you'll be allowed to practice. They just take the easy way out. If you go through three years of law school, they figure that, in most cases, you'll have accepted enough of the basics to function as a normal lawyer.

And that's about all there is to it, on the subject of learning to "think like a lawyer." Except for a smattering of legal ethics, there's no required course in "legal attitudes." The attitudes tend to filter in while you're studying other subjects. In terms of what's explicit, the major emphasis of law school is, by far, on the substance of the law that you're studying, even if nobody really knows for sure what the hell it might have to do with your future.

published March 05, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 3 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.