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Sunday, March 27, 2005
  How to Think Like a Lawyer : Spring Break is over, like it or not. I made good use of it this time around--perhaps because it's sinking in that starting a few months from now (and continuing for a looooooong time to come) a week's vacation won't be as easy to come by as it has in the past.

I've been ruminating on a comment from Eric last week:
"[L]aw and" classes: I took them; I liked them. However, they are a bad idea for first-year students. First year should be less about "law and" or even law in action and more about getting students to (here comes the cliche) "think like lawyers." Only once there is an intellectual framework in place can law in action and "law and" classes have any real relevance or usefulness (many debate the true value of "law and" classes anyway).
Do you buy that? I don't. I'd flip it around. The correct framework to get in place first is the law-in-action stuff. Does that cover any class that fall sunder the "Law and" category? Probably not. Depends on how they're taught. But what I am talking about is a focus on the human side of lawyering first--rather than the technical aspects, which should be learned later after the "human" fundamentals are in place.

What does it mean to think like a lawyer? Hard question to answer but I know one thing for certain--that meaning is changing. Law school admissions policies have rapidly evolved in the last few decades (in case you haven't noticed). As new classes of graduates move out into the profession, the profession itself is going to change. And to come full circle the law school curriculum--which has in many ways remained largely unchanged for over 100 years--should evolve as well. THat's what this is all about

The focus of law school, however, will (and should) always remain on teaching students (especially first-years) to think like a lawyer. But how about an update in what that means?

By my reckoning, there are two major aspects to succeeding in the profession: (1) the technical aspects and (2) the human side of the job. I would argue that too heavy a focus on the technical aspects during law school is a mis-allocation of resources, because we have on-the-job training for the technical stuff. I would focus a law-school education, especially during the first year, on the human side of lawyering. The skills will come in time, but that human foundation needs to be in place from the beginning. That's what I think.
Comments:
Despite what your partner-employer said, I do not think success in law hinges merely on (1) technical and (2) the human side. While those are important, they miss the most important skill: critical, analytical thinking about the law. This is what "thinking like a lawyer" is, and it is not covered by the two categories you listed.

Here's why I think you don't buy into the need to prepare students to "think like a lawyers", and it's the same reason your future boss misses it too: You already do. So do I. But there are a ton of students who don't, instinctively, think like lawyers. Sure, they need to learn the technical aspects, like filing documents, writing briefs/motions, etc., and sure, they need to learn how to hold a client's hand, but those are separate from putting in place the intellectual framework that is necessary for success. So, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss "thinking like a lawyer" a skill which I think doesn't properly develop if you throw people into the law in action right off the bat.
 
Eric, I think that the gist of what you're saying--especially in paragraph two--is probably right.

But I'm glad you pressed me on this, because my word choice was too imprecise. What I actually mean by "technical aspects" is the kind of analysis and critical thinking that you're describing. Not just filling in forms, etc.

Bear in mind that I do, of course, think that law students need to be schooled in analysis and critical thinking. It's a matter of what should be emphasized--that is, what the foundation should be that the curriculum tries to lay down during the first year. I envision a curriculum, I think, where that foundation consists of a focus on the human side of lawyering. Then, beginning during the second year (and continuing on through on-the-job training and into our careers), the analysis and critical thinking part (or what I would call the "technical part") is then added.
 
Eric, I think that the gist of what you're saying--especially in paragraph two--is probably right.

But I'm glad you pressed me on this, because my word choice was too imprecise. What I actually mean by "technical aspects" is the kind of analysis and critical thinking that you're describing. Not just filling in forms, etc.

Bear in mind that I do, of course, think that law students need to be schooled in analysis and critical thinking. It's a matter of what should be emphasized--that is, what the foundation should be that the curriculum tries to lay down during the first year. I envision a curriculum, I think, where that foundation consists of a focus on the human side of lawyering. Then, beginning during the second year (and continuing on through on-the-job training and into our careers), the analysis and critical thinking part (or what I would call the "technical part") is then added.
 
Eric, I think that the gist of what you're saying--especially in paragraph two--is probably right.

But I'm glad you pressed me on this, because my word choice was too imprecise. What I actually mean by "technical aspects" is the kind of analysis and critical thinking that you're describing. Not just filling in forms, etc.

Bear in mind that I do, of course, think that law students need to be schooled in analysis and critical thinking. It's a matter of what should be emphasized--that is, what the foundation should be that the curriculum tries to lay down during the first year. I envision a curriculum, I think, where that foundation consists of a focus on the human side of lawyering. Then, beginning during the second year (and continuing on through on-the-job training and into our careers), the analysis and critical thinking part (or what I would call the "technical part") is then added.
 
Brian,

Congrats on the writing award. It didn't occur to me initially, but I imagine the award comes with some mixed emotions. In any event, that's quite an accomplishment.
 
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