The inherent breadth of legal issues in my realm means that I have to have a broad background in a a variety of legal issues. But it also reminds me, on a daily basis, exactly what it means to "think like a lawyer". And as a law student, you should seek to always improve your understanding of what it means. In particular, "thinking like a lawyer" means:
1. The ability to spot issues. Anyone who has been through law school knows that the best way to spot legal issues is to first understand the law. In general practice, knowing all of the substantive law is simply not a luxury that many can afford- either in terms of time, or sheer intellectual capacity. However, it is possible to know enough law, and the thinking behind that law, to discern, at least directionally, where the law will land in a given situation. And if you understand this, you are much more likely to be able to spot a potential legal issue. To put it another way, although learning the rules and sub-rules is important, it is equally important to understand the rationale behind those rules. Understanding the rationale will enable you to anticipate what a rule is, in an area of the law with which you are unfamiliar. I call this understanding the "strategic" side of the law, as opposed to the "tactical" side of the law. Anyone can memorize rules. It takes a special person to be able to understand the "why" behind the rule.
2. Anticipate the various outcomes. When I was in college, I loved to play chess. The thing I loved the most about it was that in order to survive (and perhaps even win), you had to constantly anticipate what your opponent would do in his next move, and the move after that, and perhaps even the move after that. You had to keep it all straight in your mind and then make a decision as to your most beneficial move. The practice of law is like that, in a way. And "thinking like a lawyer" means that you are constantly anticipating what might happen next. And a lawyer who understands the "strategic" side of the law, can anticipate what might happen, even though they might not have precise knowledge of a particular area of the law. The ability to anticipate, and advise your client accordingly, is a crucial skill for lawyers.
3. Attention to detail. There is an old saying that the "devil is in the details". It means that although you might understand the big picture of a situation, executing effectively requires a knowledge of the details. By the way, this is the opposite of understanding the "strategic" side of the law. In many cases, the details themselves dictate the outcomes. The trick in law practice is knowing when the details are important. So, in a sense, you must be both a strategic thinker, but also have the ability to get down and dirty with the details. In other words, in some cases, there are things in law practice that are not delegable. Instead, you have to have a detailed command of the facts and the law, in order to render effective legal advice. And law practice is one of the few professions that requires strategic and tactical skills.
As you progress in your legal education, never forget why you are in law school. You are developing your skills and your craft, so that you may become the best lawyer you can be. Keeping the foregoing in the back of your mind as you study will help you to do just that.
Best wishes in your legal career.