A trap for new lawyers (and law students) is that they get so caught up in all of the legal "trees" (the rules, the elements of rules, etc.) that they quickly forget what the legal "forest" looks like. In other words, it's easy to overlook the big picture of a given legal situation. This phenonmenon also makes for perfect law school exam fodder. Let me explain.
In my first year Contracts class, we spent a great deal of time on cases which decided things like whether an offer had been accepted, whether an offer was even capable of being accepted, and whether or not there had been a "meeting of the minds" between the parties to a putative contract. At the very end of the semester, the professor briefly discussed the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). For those of you who have studied it, the UCC is a model statute, which was intended to clarify the various states' common law regarding the law of contracts. Most, but not all states have adopted the UCC. You also probably understand that a basic provision of the UCC is that a contract for the sale of goods greater in value than $500 must be in writing to be enforceable.(Article 2).
So, we spent an entire semester on the elements of a contract- offer, acceptance, consideraton and damages. We spent about 15 minutes on the UCC. In fact, if you weren't paying attention (or were worried about whether the professor was going to call on you), you probably would have missed the UCC discussion.
It's now exam time. The first question on the test provided a convoluted, complicated fact pattern which suggest all kinds of classic contracts nuances. It was an oral agreement. The seller had an old car. The buyer was seventeen years old. When the buyer came to pick up the car, it had a huge dent in it, which was different from the photo in the ad. The buyer was intoxicated when the deal was consummated. Etc., etc. etc. The examiner offered the simple instruction, "Discuss."
You, having read this blog post, can clearly identify the trap. The trap is that none of these facts matter, if the jurisdiction in which the deal was consummated had adopted the UCC. So, the first words on your exam answer should ask whether the UCC applies. If you immediately jumped into a discussion on contract defenses (minority, incapacity), you would lose valuable points. The UCC, in this question, is the big picture, aka, the "forest". If you were so caught up in the factual "trees' that you missed the legal "forest" you probably earned a "B" on this answer.
Similarly, in law practice, it's easy to miss the forest. This is why, at least in the beginning, when faced with a legal problem, you must carefully understand the facts. You spend a great deal of time interviewing witnesses and sifting through documents. You do all of this before you jump to any conclusions about anything. You make no assumptions. You simply dig, dig and dig some more. Only then, after your exhaustive investigation, do you begin to ask yourself, "What is the issue?" You begin to research the law. And finally, you begin to analyze. Otherwise, you risk giving your client "B" quality advice.
So, my message is simple. Make sure you are always stepping back and seeing the forest. Make sure that you understand the details, but also make sure that you understand the big picture. Develp these skills and you wil be well on your way to becoming a great lawyer.
I wish you much success in your legal studies and career.