One Law Student Goes Radical, Using Law School to Become a Lawyer

It’s nice to read stories about people who once didn’t get it and now do.  Jennifer Harris, a law student entering her second year, writes in The National Law Journal that after an up-and-down start, she is approaching her second year “with the goal of studying not for the next exam, but for the practice of law that awaits me after graduation.”

Cheers to Jennifer.  Most law students attend law school to be lawyers.  Relatively few come to Jennifer’s realization that they should use law school as a step to becoming a lawyer, not just learning about the law.  More surprising is that most law schools, outside of clinical programs, don’t really spend much time emphasizing the practice of law.  In some, law is viewed as, at best, a second-tier career, far below being, say, a law professor.  The most one usually hears is that you’ll be taught to “think like as lawyer.”

Being a legal intellectual isn’t the point of being a lawyer.  I was a college professor and author (an intellectual, if you like) before becoming a lawyer; the difference between those disciplines is vast.  Yes, it’s necessary for a lawyer to think carefully and quickly but immensely more important to act like a lawyer and integrate analytical skills into being a lawyer.  Entering lawyers and the practice of law would be better off (and Jennifer could have avoided a down first year) if law schools emphasized being a lawyer—part counselor, therapist, schmoozer, negotiator, detail fanatic, drudge, thinker, etc.—from the beginning.

I don’t mean to single out law schools.  They’re just one piece of the story.  Earlier this year, I shared a podium at an LSAT forum with representatives of four other major test prep companies.  Two of those other representatives talked at length about the relationship between the LSAT and the skills required to be a lawyer.  The only problem:  neither of the two had practiced law or even attended law school.  And it showed—it was purely the “Movie of the Week” version of being a lawyer (there’s a reason “Movie of the Week” was cancelled a quarter century ago).  Those who are taking the LSAT should approach it as a step to developing certain lawyering skills, as I’ve said before, but that’s a long way from baseless speculation about the relationship between a logic game and the practice of law.

Before becoming lawyers, law students and those considering law school should gather as much information as they can on the practice of various kinds of law from reliable sources who have practiced or are practicing law, and who are well-informed about the legal market (many lawyers are not).  Those few prospective lawyers who do that are more realistic, happier and, by the way, much better lawyers.  They know that their job will involve not just legal intellectualizing but being a good, effective counselor, anticipating others’ actions and responses, turning bad situations for their clients into better ones, navigating internal work environments, and soothing and reassuring clients, among other things.  And they will have begun to develop those skills in ways that will work for them and their clients.  It’s too much to expect, as we now do, first employers to do all that work from scratch.  There are too many trainees with too thin a basis of information about what being a lawyer actually means.  Jennifer’s first employer will have a clearer road to travel with her—and my guess is that her newfound orientation to being a lawyer, not just a law student, will help her give better interviews and inspire more confidence among prospective employers than many of her colleagues.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on July 10, 2010.

3 Responses to “One Law Student Goes Radical, Using Law School to Become a Lawyer”

  1. […] the rest of this great post here Comments (0)    Posted in Attorney Lawyer Legal   […]

  2. […] like a professional, including having an advisor who consciously helps you hone and develop your own professionalism at every […]

  3. […] talked several times on this blog about using LSAT prep, admission and law school processes to develop good lawyering skills that will pay off long after law school admission and […]

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