Please stop complaining about what you didn’t learn in law school.

There are so many posts and tweets and articles written on what law school didn’t prepare us for. Marketers scream “law school didn’t prepare you to run a business and get clients!” People who want to ghost write for you scream “You didn’t learn to write persuasively and use proper fonts!” Criminal defense lawyers scream “How do I live with the constant stream of humanity that I see being wasted.” (Read that post, though, really.)

Look, I went to law school to learn how to pass the bar. I didn’t go because I thought it would teach me really much of anything. For that I went to work. I started in the DA’s office as an intern in the appellate unit, then in my 2nd year I got permission to try cases. So, I did that. Then I switched sides and went to work for a balls out criminal defense lawyer. He taught me how to work hard, and how to stand tough in the face of sometimes seemingly never ending criticism. Did law school prepare me to set up my office remotely from Starbucks? Nope. Did it help me learn how to be a human being and talk to people about what I do for a living so they can refer cases to me? Nope. I thought that being a living sentient civilized human being was part of me being a lawyer. So, that when I was a lawyer and people knew I was a lawyer because as a civilized human being I would talk to them, they might refer cases to me.

I’m not sure why law school has to teach people how to practice law.  Their goal is to teach you the law – the concepts of it, how to analyze and evaluate it. Where to find it and how to comprehend it. Each firm, each governmental entity, each person has a way of engaging in the practice of law that is unique. And, obviously, the law is always changing and how people practice it will change as well. (Aren’t we all ever evolving? Isn’t that the hope?) What worked for us 15 years ago simply doesn’t hold true today. But the things I learned in law school are still useful – I know how to read the law. I know the questions to ask myself when I read a case or a statute and I know that may means it could be and shall means it has to be.

My suggestion is this:  Law schools shouldn’t let in so many dopes who don’t realize that you actually go out of school and practice law – sort of like being a glass blower or an auto mechanic. This is a skilled profession. When you leave medical school you have to go and learn some things before you are allowed to perform surgery or take on patients. I guess it was too much to expect that people who went to law school would know that they should learn the things they need to learn before they go to practice law on their own. I don’t know that law schools thought people would leave school and go on and do, you know, whatever.

(But there are no jobs, what are we to do? We need to work. We need to pay back our student debt. Law school is a scam. They tell us there are jobs. There are no jobs. We need to work. I need to hang a shingle and claim my internships as experience and law school better give me that ‘experience’ and knowledge so I can go out and hang that shingle and have that ‘experience’ be real.)

When you go to law school you go to become a lawyer. You don’t go to philosophize on the law, unless you are going to be a legal philosopher. Which is fine. I philosophize on shit all the time (I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate. I won the women’s studies prize and the Minerva Prize for undergraduate scholarship. So suck it if you think I’m not a feminist.) But I wanted to be a lawyer who went to court and argued things and said “Objection!” so I had to learn how to do that. In order to learn to do that I had to take classes that taught me how to do that. I am fairly certain even your third tier law school has such classes (I went to a third tier law school and we had loads of those classes, as well as clinics.) I mean, did you not know to do that when you went to law school? What was so confusing to you?

Really, if there was a law school class on rainmaking I don’t know what it would teach – how to have lunch with your friends? How to play golf? How to not be a recluse and a socially awkward douchebag?

It seems the problem we have is that there are lots of people in the world who think law school is a way to 1. avoid deciding what to do with the rest of your life; 2. a good, easy way to make money; 3. learn how to be a human being who can be a lawyer. Perhaps you might want to take a good look at yourself and figure out why you want to go to law school before you go.  But stop bitching about how law school didn’t teach you how to manage your case files. That’s not what it is there for.

The truth is you won’t know how to be a lawyer from law school. Even if they stop doing law school stuff in the third year. You need experience and knowledge and you need to be melded and molded.

The only cure for inexperience is experience. Not law school.

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Posted in: Not Gulity No Way   |     |   8 Comments

8 Responses

  1. Nicholas Harper - January 15, 2014

    First, I agree that there are a long list of things that law school is not intended to teach and should not teach.

    On the other hand, if we want to create competent attorneys, there are some fundamentals that need at least introduced. If law schools claim to create legal professionals (and law practice *is* a profession), they need to create actual legal professionals, not legal research assistants.

    For example, I know several law grads, including ones who took clinics and “experiential”/”practical” classes, who do not know how to file anything in court. Teaching students how to file does not need to be extensive. Show them how to do it at the local court and via e-file, and you’ve given them enough know-how to figure out other jurisdictions.

    At some point, law schools have the responsibility to educate law students not only to read law, but also to practice law.

  2. Mirriam - January 15, 2014

    Here’s how I learned to file things in court: “Hello Miss/Mr. Clerk. I’m new, I need to file this. What should I do?” And voila! I filed it. Each court is different and every efile system is too. You have to know how to ask the questions, know what to ask and of whom. And what do you mean by ‘practice law’ How are a bunch of professors ever going to teach you to do that?

  3. Nicholas Harper - January 15, 2014

    Filing might have been a bad example. But you’re right. I cannot count the number of times I heard, “I don’t know, just ask the court clerk,” during internships.

    As for academics teaching practice: Also a good point. Perhaps that begs the question of a larger problem with the current law school model?

  4. Mirriam - January 15, 2014

    What would you like them to do? Not teach you about the fundamentals of law – bio, biochemistry, chemistry, etc. in med school – and just have you learn how to sit and stand up in court? Or file things? I guess I just don’t know what the substitute is for practicing law.

  5. justin eisele - January 16, 2014

    I think that there is much impatience with education. We have so formalized all forms of education that the idea of an “apprentice” or “mentor” has been lost on many. It was lost on me. I went straight into private practice. I regret it many days. School teaches you how to learn and mentor lawyers teach you how to live as a lawyer.

  6. Mark Draughn (Windypundit) - January 18, 2014

    “And what do you mean by ‘practice law’ How are a bunch of professors ever going to teach you to do that?”

    Exactly. I’m in a very different field (software development), but when I was in school, it was pretty clear pretty quickly that the professors were only going to teach us the underlying fundamentals — the concepts behind software design, the math, and maybe a computer language or two. You only had to read accounts of actual software engineers at work to realize the professors had no experience at any of that. If you wanted to learn the practical stuff, you had to find another way.

  7. RE - February 9, 2014

    If a very good friend wanted to learn how to practice criminal law, and you agreed to take a year to teach him or her, what would you do? Would you teach the various crimes, sentencing ranges, realistic sentencing outcomes, reading discovery to see if it is triable, etc.? Or would you spend years babbling about Penoyer v. Neff, the two ships named Peerless, the Rule against Perpetuities or other useless bullshit.

  8. Mirriam - February 17, 2014

    Has my very good friend been to law school? I would not agree to take him or her unless he has done that. Until he or she can babble about Penoyer v. Neff I would not think I would be able to teach them much, since it is important to know about things you don’t think are important to know about. Build the brain, then the practice. After that they can come wander court. The foundation is the useless crap, weed out those who think they already know the answers.

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