Ten Things You’re Not Taught in Law School

by Steve Eggleston 20th February 2019

Few learning experiences are as intense, demanding, and immersive as law school. For three to four years, depending on your program, all you do is think about the jealous mistress which is the body of the law. Casebooks, hornbooks, and staredecisis come to dominate your frontal cortex as you engage in the “The Paper Chase,” so dramatically played out each week in the 1970s TV show aboutfirst-year law students entering the Ivy League.

 Your first ordeal after getting accepted into law school was moving to campus (real or virtual) and joining a study group. Through this collective you tackled the intellectual challenges of torts (no, not the pastry), contracts (and mutual consideration), criminal law (with its mensrea), Crim Pro and Gideon v.Wainwright, wills & trusts and real estate and evidence – “I object! That’s hearsay, your honor.” But when you’re done, you are hardly finished, because life is just beginning.

 State bar exams behind you, and diploma hanging framed on the wall, one day you wake up and find yourself in contention with the things that you were not taught in law school. Soon you realize there are many, but you have to start somewhere. Here’s brief glimpse into ten things you’re not taught in law school that may prove just as important as the things that were:

One: How to land the right job

Though all law schools have a careers class, it hardly prepares you fully for the task at hand. Searching for firms on the internet, summer clerkships, and applications compete with ace CVs and reams of letters recommendation – these go without saying. But where do you really want to work? What do you really want to do with your life? And how much time do you want to spend doing it? Landing the right job requires thought-out answers to all of these questions. And more: ask where you want to be in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years…then seek to land the job that will route you there.

Two: Understanding the business of law

No matter how lofty the tower from which you came, or how aspirational the practice of law can be, law is a business. Each and every month, bills must be paid by someone. You, your parents, your firm, your spouse, your lender – someone or combination thereof will have to pay the rent, malpractice insurance, cost of continuing education, and advertisements (if you go that route). When stretched, you or your firm will need a line of credit. When flush, you’ll need a good tax accountant. In between, you’ll need to meet all the other expenses that make the world go round. So better to contemplate all of this sooner than later.

Three: Become good at something

Old-time lawyers are notorious for being “the jack of all trades and the master of none.” Traditionally those would be your small-town general practitioners who take virtually everything that walks in the door. But sadly, or not, those days are quickly disappearing thinly into the past. The modern world is becoming ever more a world of speciality and sub-speciality. Find a niche that you understand and like – and ideally, that you’re passionate about – and dig in with everything you have. Cyber, personal injury, family, wills & trusts, estates, corporate, intellectual property, music, entertainment, admiralty, criminal law, white collar crime – all speak to the master within us. Become a master in something you love and you’ll always be happily in demand.

Four: Sharpen specific skills

The practice of law is a contact sport. You will be thrust into situations with people who have been surrounded by drama. And while being able to talk the talk, even as a specialist, is important, having specific skills is equally so. Some people are great orators, others are great writers, still others are rainmakers. No matter what speciality or sub-specialty finds you, within that milieu you will be faced with forks in the road – trial lawyer, transactional type, tax nerd, what have you. Pursue the one that seems natural and synergistic to the person you are. Play to your strength and sharpen your skills so you always meet or exceed client (and your own) expectations.

Five: It’s a real world with real consequences

When you do poorly on a law exam, only you pay the price. When you do poorly for a client – and could have done better – not only your client but the entire justice system suffers. This means you must be prepared to always go the extra mile, be early and stay late, turn over and look under every leaf, keep digging until you hit water (or oil or gas or solar power), and let no stone go unturned. Not doing your job as a lawyer creates a domino effect, with consequences ranging from embarrassment and malpractice to disbarment and jail. Pursue excellent and you’ll rarely go wrong.

Six: Just when you thought it was safe out there

Millions of lawyers practiced all of their lives without sending an email, encrypting a message, or engaging in ediscovery. Those lawyers are retired or dead. The world today is one of paperless filing, data breaches, privacy notices, differential sharing, and cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, the lawyer is viewed largely as the weak link in the whole global affair of information technology. More and more clients are auditing law firms to ensure that their cybersecurity is up to par. So no matter what you were taught in law school, or not taught, 100% cybersecurity must be the mindset.

Seven: The law is more than a business

It seems contradictory: the law is a business but more than a business. And perhaps it is. Unlike a marketplace capitalist, the lawyer is a fiduciary tasked with (almost) always putting the client first in mattersof personal gain and sacrificing greed for good will. Oftentimes things must bedone that don’t turn much of a profit. Extra hours must be spent that can’t allbe billed. You must prepare to sacrifice yourself and your family for the greatcalling of the law. There simply is no other way to put it.

Eight: The law is not for everyone

Some people can’t take it or don’t want to take it. Being a lawyer isn’t always a noble profession and not everyone considers the noble to be desirable. Just like truth isn’t always truth, noble isn’t always noble. Just like people view Presidents differently, they view nobility differently. Defending the guilty is not enshrined or admired by all; in fact, it can be shunned and hated by many. Pain can befall the counsellor caught in the middle.To Kill a Mockingbird is more non-fiction than you could ever imagine. For that reason, there are otheroptions for those with a law degree than practicing law.

Nine: Not practicing law

Yes, after all that paper chase, after all that tuition, and after all that bloody sacrifice – not practicing law might be the vastly superior option. And many totally believe that. Many take their law degree and become businessmen and women, heads of business affairs at film studios, venture capital wunderkinds, internet start-up mavens, authors, professors, teachers, politicians, lobbyists, band managers, show bookers, publishers, ad infinitum. For the cornerstone of a law degree is not law, it is analytical thinking. And that, is something that can be applied anywhere.

Ten: Balance, moderation, and happiness in all things

These are the last, but as the saying goes, nary the least. Since a law degree so forcefully plunges the person who possesses it into the vast chaos of humanity, it is easy to walk astray, to allow the moral compass to spin off-kilter, to lose track of what’s important in life. Family, children, the poor and downtrodden, the mentally and ethically ill, the innocent of color and ethnicity, the less fortunate – all need someone. And that someone might be you. But before it is, you must find your balance, usually in moderation, in pursuit of happiness in all things…even though it’s highly unlikely these things were ever taught to you in law school.

Steve Eggleston - author at Eduvenio

By Steve Eggleston

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