Do Like a Lawyer

The start of the new academic year means a new group of first-year law students, ready for the three-year adventure that is law school. And each fall, those same students hear much about what they’re going to learn in law school. Usually the main thing they hear is that they will learn to “think like a lawyer.”

It’s certainly true that law school will teach students a particular way of thinking critically that will infuse all of their thinking from here forward. It’s also true that lawyers ought to be thinking critically. (So should everyone, in my view.) But law school should do more than teach students how to “think like a lawyer.” It should teach students how to “be” lawyers.

It is on this thought that I am reminded of Steven M. Radke, L’02.  The Law School invited Radke, vice president of government relations at Northwestern Mutual Insurance Co., to speak at its orientation event in fall 2006. Radke gave an entertaining and informative speech to that year’s entering class, the text of which can be found here. At one point, Radke discussed the often-stated law school goal of learning to “think like a lawyer,” a goal, he said, that is a bit troubling, particularly if it suggests that there is a single way lawyers think. He continued,

[I]f, God forbid, I someday find myself being wheeled into an emergency room, I hope the person preparing to operate on me doesn’t just think like a doctor.  I want him or her to be a doctor.

Radke’s point is spot on. Law school should not only teach students how to “think like a lawyer,” but it should also teach students how to be a lawyer. 

This point is one also made by the authors of Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Practice of Law, also known as the Carnegie Report.  (A summary of the report can be found here.) Those authors noted that law schools do a fantastic job teaching students the skill of legal analysis—“thinking like a lawyer”; however, law schools often fail to give as much attention to putting that skill into actual practice.  As the summary report points out, “Unlike other professional education, most notably medical school, legal education typically pays relatively little attention to direct training in professional practice” (6). The authors also point out that law schools generally “fail to complement the focus on skill in legal analyses with effective support for developing ethical and social skills.” Id. That is, those skills (aside from legal analysis) that students need to be effective practicing lawyers.

Students at Marquette Law School are fortunate to be able to choose from a wide range of skills classes (class that are taught both by faculty and by adjuncts) that teach them to “do like a lawyer.” To graduate, student must take a workshop, the very definition of which means that the student is to develop a specific lawyering skill or skills. But most of our students take more than a single workshop and a substantial number become involved with our clinics, judicial internships, and supervised fieldwork programs. In my classes, we also address professionalism issues, and I know my colleagues do the same. There’s also a culture here that values public service. At this school, we are very much thinking about how to teach students not only how to “think like a lawyer,” but how to “do like a lawyer” so that our graduates—future Marquette Lawyers—are able to hit the ground running in the real world.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ellen Henak

    “Doing like a lawyer” encompasses the business aspects of law, not just the legal skills. Networking, marketing, time management, fee-setting, business planning and, in many situations, bookkeeping and business planning also are essential. Without cases and clients, there is nothing for a lawyer to do. As for professionalism and ethics, the most common disciplinary issue is not some esoteric issue but failure to manage trust accounts properly.

  2. Noah Kovacs

    Oh what an exciting time! I love the take on how to “be” a lawyer and your example of wanting a doctor and not someone who thinks like a doctor. Great perspective.

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