I recommend the Pyramid Outline Method, which is a study methodology intended to help students digest and comprehend the vast amounts of reading required in law school. This methodology helps to focus student efforts where they count- at exam time.But as I state in the book, there is more to law school than mere grades. Law school is the place where you begin to think and act like a lawyer. And part of being a good lawyer is to engage in the work in a way that is constructive and positive.
So the purpose of this blog post is to give you some things to think about as you navigate law school and develop your craft.So, and without further ado, the following lessons are, on the one hand, so simple a four-year old can understand them, but on the other hand, require constant and consistent effort to actually make them a part of your life:
1. Be Honest in Everything You Do. Honesty is not only a minimum requirement for lawyers; it ain’t a bad idea for civilians either. We owe it to each other to be candid and honest. You don’t have to be rude; simply be truthful. As you will learn in your Legal Ethics class, honesty is the hallmark of lawyers. Further, in certain circumstances, dishonesty is a violation of your ethical obligations. So start today, practicing honesty with others. Think before you speak, in order to ensure that what you say is truly honest and straightforward. Avoid all of the posturing and positioning that law students, year after year, subject each other to. Stick to the facts.
2. Play Nice. Is I describe in “Law School Labyrinth,” law school is notoriously competitive, even at the schools that are supposed to be above all that. The simple fact is that there are a limited number of legal jobs out there at any given time. Some people win and some people lose. As a result, everyone (or most everyone) is competing for those precious jobs. Further, in law practice, there are by necessity winners and losers. Certainly modern jurisprudence encourages mediation, arbitration and other alternatives to the litigation process. But, generally speaking a lawyer’s duty is to zealously advocate for their clients. But the mere fact of competition does not mean that you have to be hateful about it. It does not have to be personal. Instead, a professional rises above the fray and maintains an even keel, even in the midst of the battle. Always treat your adversary with the respect that we owe to each other.
3. Avoid Shortcuts. It can be very tempting to skim the surface, in terms of your research, once you find support for your position. This is a big mistake. Keep digging and analyzing until you have clearly identified all meaningful alternatives. There is always “the rest of the story”; make sure that you identify and understand it. Again, you must be zealous in your studies because you are required to be zealous for your clients.
4. Treat Everyone With Respect. I have worked in law firms and I have worked in-house. As an in-house lawyer, I am today a client to several law firms. Suffice it to say most people are nice to clients (otherwise, they wouldn’t remain clients); however, people aren’t always nice to junior lawyers (because they don’t have to be). But you just never know who is going to end up being your client. And you never know what the future holds. So it just seems like good insurance to treat everyone you encounter with respect. Personally, I think it’s a good credo to live by. But if it’s not yours, you should seriously consider it- more bees with honey, and all of that. And, it’s the right thing to do. There are plenty of people out there with bad opinions of lawyers. Why not make it your personal mission to improve the image of the profession.
5. Let Go of It. Life is hard. Law school is hard. People can be mean. Bad things happen to good people. You make a “B”, when you deserved an “A.” But learn to let go of it. Harboring anger or a grudge is only going to hurt you. Living in fear will kill you. Learn to let it go. If you believe in God (and by the way, according to a recent poll, the vast majority of Americans do), then just give it all to Him. Don’t hang onto it. Just let it go.
6. Develop Your Character. In law school, with the relentless approach of exams and the excessive emphasis everyone places on grades, we can overlook the importance of character. But in the practice of law, much of what you do will be “when no one is looking.” If you do not take care to develop your character now, it may be difficult to deal with difficult choices in the future. Fine tune your moral compass. Endeavor to do the right thing in everything that you do. And when your character is tested, you will pass the test.I wish you much success in your legal career. If you have read “Law School Labyrinth”, you know that I absolutely love the practice of law. I believe it can be one of the most rewarding careers out there. But it’s not easy. And if you take time now to focus on your own values, when you hit the battlefield, you will be much more likely to survive, and even thrive.