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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thinking Like a Lawyer

law school reading room

One of the promises made to students as they enter law school is that one day during their sojourn there, they will have an epiphany and grasp what it means to think like a lawyer. It is on that day, and no earlier, that they will cease to be mere law students, but become novice lawyers.

This promise intrigued the author when he was a student and he eagerly looked forward to that promised day and epiphany. And, while it took a while, the promise was proven true. One day the author actually understood what is meant by thinking like a lawyer. This epiphany left him in turns, pleased, disappointed, and disturbed.

Pleased, because thinking like a lawyer involves following an entirely agreeable set of precepts, some of which may be summarized as follows:

  • Be logical. Some propositions prove, or at least tend to support, other propositions. Proceed from proposition to proposition in order of support.

  • Be exact. Define the terms you use and stick to those definitions. Try to avoid assumptions. If an assumptions is helpful, always clearly state that assumption and that this is what it is—not something proven elsewhere.

  • Be methodical. Consider the list of possibilities posed by every situation and address each, however briefly. Do not proceed to another subject before you have fully exhausted this list.

Disappointed, because following these precepts is what the author had always considered just thinking simpliciter, not a mode of cogitation exclusive to the legal profession. Other mental activity hardly qualifies as thinking.

Disturbed, because that this was widely regarded as an epiphany meant that many students apparently enter law school without ever having thought before.