A lawyer is comprised of three things, an ego, a Juris Doctorate, and passage of the Bar Exam.
This post is in reference to the middle one, a JD degree.
Law school is comprised of 3 years of post graduate education at an accredited Law School.
It is all at once magnificent, mundane, archaic, laborious, and terrifying.
Times may change, but in the 1990’s law school was what you did if you were kinda smart, but not yet ready to stop being a student, and could not do math.
The interesting thing about your first year in law school is that no matter where you go to school, First Year Classes are the same. Everybody from Harvard to Dr. Nick’s Upstairs School of Law takes;
- Civil Procedure
- Criminal Law
- Constitutional Law
- Legal Writing
Nowadays, there are plenty of Useful Tutorials on the Internet about surviving your time as a 1L (1st year law student). Back when I did it, all you could do to prepare was read Scott Turow’s ‘One L’.
Keep in mind while you are reading that this takes place at Harvard Law School and your experience will not be quite so cutthroat.
Having said that, law school IS FULL of the kids that were the smart fish in their little local fishbowls.
Law School is also graded on a curve.
You’re ‘A’ means someone else did not get an ‘A’. You are now competing with your classmates in a very real way.
As a side note, it always made me snicker that ‘Legal Ethics‘ was graded on a curve. You don’t have to be ‘ethical per se‘, just MORE ethical than those other shady bastards.
Law School is designed to retrain your brain to think like a lawyer. ‘Lawyer Brain‘ is a valid operating system for life and I thoroughly recommend it for anyone interested in FIRE. I find it very compatible.
Lawyer Brain forces you to view every aspect of your life through a legal prism. Unconsciously you will break everything down in an efficient way and argue it until there is no more meat left on the bone.
Most law schools still use some form of the Socratic Method during question and answer sessions. Your Professor puts you on the spot and continues to grill you until you give enough satisfactory responses or until you are embarrassed enough that they move on. Shy people will not enjoy this tradition.
You will learn to read quickly and read in between the lines of whatever you are reviewing to discern the essential parts. You will analyze everything before you write using some form of IRAC. An acronym meaning; Refine the Issue, find the Rule, Application of Analysis, draw your Conclusion.
The basis for this transformation to Lawyer Brain is in learning a new vocabulary.
Lawyers have specifically designed the study and practice of law to be arcane and obtuse so as to discourage outsiders from dabbling with it.
A large part of the initial learning curve is adapting to the legal speak used throughout the Kingdom. Incorporate this terminology and you are well on your way to becoming a lawyer.
I think of Lawyer speak as akin to the Black Speech of Mordor, hence the scary photo.
Tolkien called him the Mouth of Sauron. I believe he taught Criminal Procedure at Northwestern.
Law school involves a ton of reading.
At first you will crawl through cases, biting off bits and chewing them for some time before you feel like you ‘get it’. You will notice that this reading of case law and filtering down what is really going on in a case becomes easier. Eventually you will have the basis to digest and understand a case simply by skimming it.
Those sad underdeveloped study habits that got you through high school and undergrad will need to change. Find some folks you can work well with and form a study group. Going over Old Tests and other people’s Outlines of Classes will help. There will be Outlines of Classes floating through the halls that are years old, made by better students than you, use them.
Some fields of study are about memorization, not law school. Law school is about thinking like a lawyer. Organize your brain in the proper fashion and you will find the facts, the rule, and the arguments you need to get the correct answer.
It should also be noted that the ‘correct answer’ is a malleable thing that a good lawyer can bend to his or her own needs. The position of Devil’s Advocate will come quite naturally.
Later, as a lawyer, you realize that once you are comfortable being a lawyer you can argue anything and be persuasive about it.
The same ‘comfort’ analogy is also true about law school, you just don’t know it yet.
Remember you are doing this for a valid reason. The Rule of Law and the extent to which Human beings have expanded it to encompass so many aspects of our lives is the probably the SINGLE BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT OF CIVILIZATION and a high water mark for what we are capable of accomplishing.
Last piece of Advice. The BAR EXAM is no joke. If you take away anything from this post, take the Exam seriously. I studied hours a day for weeks to prepare and I am glad I did. I still remember being one of only 2 people who passed the exam at my first paid job as a law student (Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago prosecuting Traffic Tickets)and that was out of 12 of us. Not a fun day. Secretly high-fiving the other person who passed because the room was otherwise full of grown men and women who looked like they were about to cry does not feel like a proper celebration. Respect the Test.