After all those years at law school you are finally in the real world practicing law. Law school has perhaps taught you well how to interpret and articulate your arguments, to think like lawyers and understand the different areas of substantive law, but there are many things you still need to figure out by yourself when you become a legal practitioner.
In fact, learning the law in a theoretical setting is one thing, but putting it into practice is a different story. Having the theoretical knowledge is not enough; you need to know how to apply it in the real legal setting. Here are some of the things that law school doesn’t teach you:
1. How To Start Your Career
As mentioned, your law school has taught you to read, write and think like a lawyer. A versatile skill that will remain valuable to you throughout your career and life. But have you ever though how exactly did they teach you this? Mostly by reading case studies. Just like the thousand other new lawyers, you too have probably spent most of your law school time reading countless pages of court procedures and decisions. But then everyone else did the same to learn how to think like a lawyer. Will reading them alone help once you are in the real world, fighting neck to neck with other experienced legal practitioners?
You need to do more than reading case laws to start your legal career successfully. One way of doing it is to participate in extracurricular activities such as legal clinics and trial teams. But even then, you will have to lean a lot of things while on the job.
New lawyers who have successfully bagged a job in large law firms usually have the company’s resources behind them. That said, they are still on their own while articulating arguments in courtrooms. Things get even more challenging for new lawyers when they decide to set up a solo practice.
There are a lot of things you need to decide. What is your goal? Which market should be your focus? Should you become a distracted driving attorney, given the higher rate of distracted driving car crashes in the U.S. or should you practice family law to help victims fight against domestic abuses? You also need to understand why someone would hire you over another lawyer.
That’s not all. Running a law firm is no different than running any enterprise. You will therefore need to get acquainted with various other factors such as marketing, finance, project management, leadership, recruiting and so on. In short, you need to understand business, profit and loss and myriads of other components to survive. Unfortunately, your law school didn’t teach you any of these.
2. How to Improve Your Communication Skills
This is one field where your ‘word’ can make or break you career. Your communication skill is everything. While it is true that most lawyers are good at language, how you communicate with people in order to get your point across to judges, other lawyers, support staff and clients is the most crucial part. Yet again, your law school never taught you how to communicate with people successfully.
Everything in the legal field can have more than one meaning. It is therefore imperative to communicate your instructions and points clearly. You having an understanding of what you want is not enough, your secretary and other support staff must be aware of the same. You need to take the guessing game out of the scenario, otherwise your opponent lawyers may take advantage of your ‘miscommunication’.
Also, you need to remember that legal business is a relationship-based business; for your clients, support staff and other lawyers, you are a fellow human being first and then a lawyer. How you treat them is what people will remember at the end of the day. So forget what your law school might have taught you about having great arguments to become a great lawyer. You need to have great people skills to be really successful in the legal business.
Be up front right from the beginning. Communicate with your clients about your hourly rates and how you bill. Tell them the amount of money the lawsuit would cost them, especially if it is a lengthy litigation. Get your facts right before answering your clients. Take the time if you need to do some research, but the goal is to get it right. Finally, keep the communication going and keep your clients informed about each development along the way.
3. How to Apply Common Sense
Sure, they never taught you this in the law school. In order to get on in the legal field, you will obviously need to know the law and be smart. But you will also need to apply standard logic at times to solve an issue. Filing a lawsuit is not always the answer, sometimes you should use your common sense to find a simple solution to a seemingly complex problem and perhaps the solution hardly has anything to do with law.
You also need to understand that there is always a broader context in the real legal world. In law school, you probably need to know just enough to answer the question. But in real world, you need to develop the ability to see the bigger picture. Perhaps your new secretary has missed an important deadline or may be a support staff have failed to get the witness to speak in your favor, but before you terminate their contract just think about how long will it take you to find a replacement and the time he/she will need to get going.
When you are giving advice to your clients, try to see the broader context as well and tailor your advice accordingly. A lawsuit should be the last recourse and not the only option for all possible disputes.
So the law school probably didn’t teach you a lot of things, but it did give a few precious lessons that will help you throughout your life even if you decide to go for some other career. Law school taught you to think analytically, speak confidently and write clearly and logically. These characteristics will help you become successful in both your career and life. So even if your law school missed out a lesson or two, it perhaps wasn’t that bad after all.
Carla J. Fortier is a freelance writer & blogger in Kansas City, Missouri and currently writing for Douglas R. Horn – Distracted Driving Attorney, whose main practice areas includes anything related to Law and Social Law. She would like to write about some normal living advice with a specific end goal to help people find out some different ways towards a more advantageous life.