Although it came highly recommended there were a number of things that I found didn't resonate for me in Deconstructing the First Year: How Law School Experiences Lead to Misunderstandings of What Lawyers Do at the blog called “clinicians with not enough to do.” I do think almost all of this part is pithy and descriptively accurate:
Really good law students succeed in part by figuring out how law school works and organizing around long-standing structures. Really good lawyers succeed in part by pointing out (diplomatically) what facts the judge does not understand accurately, or by making an argument never tried before in a particular jurisdiction. Really good lawyers know their cases and their files better than anyone else, inside and out. Really good lawyers understand the policy behind the law and why the laws are written a particular way. Really good law students learn to accommodate authority. Really good lawyers confront authority (again, in a diplomatic way).
My only caveat with the quoted passage that I'd say really great law students learn to maneuver around authority structures. But that's hard.
One could of course have a long discussion as to whether this is a good way for a law school to be. But I hope we'd agree that a good part of what a really good law school does is offer the initial training people need to be really good lawyers.
The great student does his/her homework, consistently, every class. The great student strives to understand the material. One way of doing this was, as the professors typically advised, to think about the cases as a tool, to interpret the holding(s) broadly or narrowly, to be able to use the holding to advantage the side that he or she is advocating, while at the same time thinking about how to argue against the opposing side’s arguing the opposite. To do this one would need to understand the factual/policy milieu. The great student reads the material for the class, thinks about it, is enthused by the opportunity to engage the professor in discussion.
The great lawyer…well I am still working on that. I think many of the qualities listed above will make for a successful lawyer. But great? Hhmmm. Is the great lawyer the the successful one? What if one’s ethical duty to zealously advocate for their client, coupled with untiring work ethic, strong (or above average) intellect, oratory skills, melodious voice, luck, or whatever, leads to his/her side winning, but is in reality the wrong result? Does the great lawyer chalk up the victory?
“Really good lawyers succeed in part by pointing out (diplomatically) what facts the judge does not understand accurately, or by making an argument never tried before in a particular jurisdiction. Really good lawyers know their cases and their files better than anyone else, inside and out. Really good lawyers understand the policy behind the law and why the laws are written a particular way.”
Yeah but try getting a client to pay for this. It’s true if you are one of the few lawyers out there representing Exon Mobile before the Supreme Court. But not if you are the average lawyer in Miami who has 50 foreclosures to get through in a day. Good lawyers are effective and efficient. No Good lawyer would make an argument never tried before, when you have a solid sucessful tried and true argument.
Practicing law is more procedure than anything else, and so is being a student. Write down what the professor says – and repeat in a paper or on an exam. It’s easier than being a lawyer because you always know which way the decision-maker is leaning and can always argue that side.