Using LSAT Preparation to Become a Better Lawyer

In yesterday’s post, I talked about a tendency among some preparing for the LSAT, after making an error in their practice, to continue to think that their answer was better than the LSAT’s, arguing with the LSAT and injuring their prospects of obtaining their highest LSAT score.  I attributed part of that tendency to the natural argumentativeness and high self-estimate of intellectual ability that are often characteristic of prospective law school students and lawyers.

Prospective law students would do well to think of every step preparing for and attending law school as a way to develop lawyering skills and perspectives.  Advise-In is very conscious of trying to do that for our clients and I’ve designed all of our programs with the objective of helping clients ultimately be better lawyers.

It’s easy to pick on a tendency to argue as a way to criticize lawyers, and the criticism often is overblown.  There really isn’t any question that the ability to construct and dissect arguments, as well as considerable intellectual capacity and discipline, are important requirements for any good law student or lawyer.

Even in the practice of law, however, the immediate tendency to argue can interfere with much of what a good lawyer tries to accomplish.  A significant part of what top-notch lawyers do is listening, not to the exclusion of understanding and constructing arguments and solutions for their clients, but as a first step toward reaching better solutions and building tighter arguments in support of them.

The initial inclination of lawyers is important.  The issue isn’t so much the ability to argue or listen, but the best place for each at any given time.  If your first inclination is to be a listener, you’ll generally be a better advocate of your clients’ interests, have a better understanding of what those interests are and why they are what they are, and you’ll be more likely to successfully move the solution to legal problems closer to where you and your client want them to be.

There’s a simple test that can help you determine whether your first instinct is to argue or to listen.  In ordinary conversation, when someone says something you don’t agree with, is your first reaction usually to ask a question that tries to understand that person’s position, or are the first words out of your mouth some form of “no”?  If the first, you’re a listener; if the second, you’re an arguer.  “Usually” is important—there are times it’s appropriate and necessary to listen first, and other times when it’s more fitting to begin with a counter.

Why is listening such an important skill for lawyers?  I practiced mergers and acquisitions law but the point is the same for virtually all kinds of lawyers.  First, it’s important for developing a relationship with clients, which is, after all, the lifeblood of a successful law practice.  Lawyers need to know what their client wants, why that is the desired end and how your client thinks that end will be realized.  One or more of those may be unrealistic or unlikely, in which case a good lawyer will work with what the client gives her or him to mold and adjust the client’s objective, expectations or understanding of procedures to get to the objective.  It’s a continuous process that, if executed successfully, will produce happier, more successful clients and a more productive relationship with them.

The same basic point is true of dealings with your colleagues, both in your organization and at law firms or other organizations with different clients who have interests similar to your client’s.  It’s also true, often more so, when dealing with lawyers representing clients with interests adverse to your client’s.  To get to the best result for your client, you need to understand why the other side takes the view it does and also why they say that’s their view—which are often not the same thing.  A good negotiator will often induce a less skilled negotiator to disclose more of its position at the outset than is wise in the long term; in effect, a skilled negotiator will take advantage of an opponent’s desire to demonstrate its intellectual and argumentative superiority.

In all of these circumstances, to say nothing of dealing with judges or other arbiters, it’s generally much more productive to listen first, so that the applicable arguments and strategies will be better constructed and responsive to the real or stated positions of other parties.

The analogy to listening to the LSAT breaks down, of course, in that lawyers have considerable influence over the outcome of any legal process, whereas LSAT takers don’t—the answer is either right or wrong from the perspective of the machine grading your LSAT.  But it’s still true that if you practice listening to the LSAT during your preparation—discerning why its answer to any question is the right one—you’ll have used your LSAT preparation not only to get a better LSAT score, but also to develop a skill crucial to your becoming a better lawyer.  That will pay off long after the LSAT is over.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on August 4, 2010.

4 Responses to “Using LSAT Preparation to Become a Better Lawyer”

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

  2. […] have, partly in law school but even more in the practice of law.  Use your LSAT prep as a means to develop and further the skills you’ll need as a lawyer.  What value the LSAT itself has for you will be exhausted once you get into law school.  But if […]

  3. […] is to act like one; that’s one reason that all Advise-In Solutions programs focus on developing skills that will actually make you a better lawyer (yes, even in LSAT prep, it’s not only possible but also yields a better LSAT […]

  4. […] 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 […]

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