The Little Lessons of Law School


Law school is full of little lessons, things you’ll miss if you’re paying too much attention to the details of rational basis review or the law surrounding an arbitrary and capricious regulation.  In the interest of helping those students who were conscientiously taking notes instead of jotting down snarky little comments (or tweeting random professor quotes) and giving some heads up to anyone considering law school, I’ve compiled a list of my own favorite “little lessons” from my professors.

        • Law school will not make you a better person.  In fact, a good lawyer’s ability to see the strengths of both sides of an argument will only increase one’s natural suspicion.
        • At some point, you will find yourself agreeing with Scalia.  It’s pretty much the law school equivalent of losing your virginity.  (As with most “law school equivalents” it’s rather less fun than the real thing.)
        • Judges are usually not good sources of legal writing.  No matter what Richard Posner thinks.
        • In the conclusion section of a brief, it is very important that you actually come to a conclusion. It’s generally best to actually include a request for some form of relief as well since, presumably, your client wants the court to do something. (You should not, however, request that the court “kiss [your] ass.”)
        • If you’re reading an opinion and you have to ask yourself, “what were they thinking,” the answer is that they probably weren’t.  A lot of the time a judicial opinion is simply a means to justify whatever outcome the judge thinks is “fair.”
        • Relying on the other party’s incompetence is never sound trial strategy.  Unless you’re up against this guy.
        • Children are not per se mentally defective.
        • Appearing to know what you’re doing can often be enough.
        • If a court opinion said that elephants could fly, somewhere a law student would be putting that in his notes as though it were completely and utterly true.  Don’t be that student.
        • If you come to the law asking for help, the law’s response will always be, “why should I?” The most morally righteous cause in the world will still fail if you can’t substantiate your legal position so be right, but be legally meticulous too.
        • Your responsibility is to your client, not to justice. This sucks sometimes.
        • Anything in a contract can be modified, including a clause which says it cannot be modified.
        • If you are rude to the court staff, you’re dead. There will be nothing that goes in your favor from that point forward.
        • Any time someone begins a sentence with the word “son,” you know that you’re going to get in trouble.
        • If a trick works on a three-year-old, it will probably work on a client.
        • “It depends” is a great answer on a law school exam. It is not a great answer from the perspective of most clients.
        • You should not become a lawyer because you love the law, you should become a lawyer because you are fascinated by the law.

In conclusion, I hereby request the following relief: that these little lessons make you a better person – or at least a better lawyer.

Post image from Shutterstock

The Northwest 3L spent 6 years in the "real world" cultivating cynicism and a dim view of humanity in the telecom and software consulting industries before deciding that the best way to deal with having zero debt in a down economy was to load up on student loans and truck on off to law school. Asked for a description, his friends replied, "says inappropriate things." Grainy, out-of-focus film footage suggests that he attends law school somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

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