Peering Through the Legal Prism

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, law school and 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
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law
  • Property
  • Torts
  • 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.


7 thoughts on “Peering Through the Legal Prism

  1. Wow. Enjoyed reading this. Brings back some painful memories of my first year of law school at George Washington Univ. Law School in the early 90s. Great summary of the ordeal of becoming a lawyer.

    The transition from thinking like a normal person to thinking like a lawyer was not an easy one for me. I had an engineering background and was pursuing a career as a patent attorney so I was actually pretty good at math. I was also used to solving a problem that an actual numerical answer. Many of the 1L classes described a convoluted fact pattern asked open ended questions like “discuss the positions and arguments of the parties” (Torts comes to mind). I struggled in these types of classes and received my worst grades in the 1st semester of law school.

    I also worked full time (at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office) and went to school in the evenings so for me it was a 4 year ordeal. Granted, we had slightly reduced credit hours compared to the day students but the combination of work and school was more than one I would care to repeat.

    To top it all off, the bar exam was also a disagreeable experience. In Virginia, men had to wear a coat and tie to the exam but we were also required to wear non-marring tennis shoes since the exam was conducted in some type of gymnasium with a wooden floor. Also had to drive to Roanoke in SW Virginia for the exam (4-5 hour drive for me). Not sure why they make everyone travel to an underpopulated corner of the state 100s of miles from where most people live to take the bar but I’m certain it involves local politics. Of course, if you fail on the first go round (which I fortunately did not), you got to take the next test in Virginia Beach in the Winter. We also had to wait months to find out if we passed (The results came out in October I believe for the August Exam). The results were published back then in the newspaper so everyone was waiting around to see if they passed. Not sure if the internet was actually viable at that time (1995). So glad I did not have to redo that.

    I did meet my wife in law school and we graduated and passed the bar together. Been married since 1994 and now have 4 kids none of whom hopefully will be lawyers. I have been in various general practice and IP boutique law firms since I left the USPTO in 2000. It has been an interesting ride but I am not sure I would choose the same path if I were doing it all over again.

    • I can only image having both an engineering brain and a legal education, must be crowded up there. If they told me I have to wear a suit and tie with sneakers to take the bar, I would have thought they were messing with me. I enjoy being married to another lawyer also, and I too, do not wish law school on my kids. It’s not that I have regrets, it’s just if I had to do it all over again, I think I would have liked to try something different.

  2. Sounds like torture.

    The surprising thing to me is some people go through all of that and at the end, decide that they don’t want to practice law. Some dated survey (in 2000) stated “24 percent of JDs who passed the bar in 2000 aren’t practicing law”.

    Maybe they found better paying, less stressful jobs instead? Otherwise, it seems hard to justify all that investment with no payoff at the end.

  3. What is it about the profession that means many people who work within it either regret their decision or, if they have children, hope that their children won’t enter the field?


    • I have a theory. Plenty of professions are full of people who do not like their jobs, the grass is always greener. Lawyers have no problem telling everybody their opinions about everything. Maybe most plumbers also do not wish they went into plumbing or do not wish it upon their kids, but don’t feel the need to get too verbal about it. The lawyers, on the other hand, will always tell you all about themselves. It’s the ‘I’m vegan’ of professions.

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