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How Much Does Law School Prepare You to Practice?

Derrick Gaiter

How Much Does Law School Prepare You to Practice?
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Congratulations! You have been admitted into law school. In just six short semesters, your family and friends will be celebrating the fact that you have obtained a legal education. Doesn’t that sound marvelous?

It depends.

The reality of attending law school is that students are trained to look for issues and provide legal solutions while balancing competing considerations, a skill necessary to succeed as lawyers.

What does that mean?

Suppose a client comes to you as an attorney to solve a legal problem and the matter seems relatively straightforward. But, like many, this client wants to be on the “winning side.” While the law may allow for some legal action, it may not be in your client’s best interest to follow through because litigation costs will be burdensome and the matter may best be resolved through a negotiation.

Competing considerations are theories that help justify why some action should be done. They are the arguments that lawyers consider in devising recommendations for their clients and a skill that is learned during law school through discussions of hypothetical situations.

As a law student, you already have many of the skills that will likely make you a successful attorney. Let’s face it: A rare few make it to this point haphazardly. However, everyone in law school is convincingly well read. The qualities that have made you a star student up until this point will be stress-tested against your peers—you will learn how to determine what success means to you on a personal and professional level during these times.

Law School Is Difficult—You May Cry

I truly do not think you will find a law student or lawyer who will passionately believe the notion that law school is easy. You knew it would not be easy before you applied. You likely were unaffected by attempts to redirect your interests to other career paths because you are motivated by academic competition or have deep curiosities about the workings of systems and ideas, or both. After all, becoming a lawyer is your life’s calling. Right? Maybe.

Becoming a lawyer is a learned calling. Law school will clarify what that means by experience.

You will learn to be resourceful, entrepreneurial, and coachable among equally intelligent students with similar interests and abilities. You will learn how to teach and be taught by the Socratic method. You may even learn that money does not equate to professional happiness, or that it does. Most importantly, you will learn how to lead yourself with humanely good form.

The best lawyers and all good law students are self-regulated learners. They can create their own goals, monitor their performance, and teach and mentor themselves without the assistance of their professors or advisors. In practice, while you may have mentors you confide in, these professionals will not necessarily be available to tangibly help address challenges. Law school provides a fabulous opportunity to cultivate this skill to self-regulate so that you can provide effective legal service and be a valuable colleague within the legal community.

I had an epiphany during the fall semester of my second year in law school: Law school is my law practice (right now!). It seems relatively simple to understand, but it had not dawned on me until I started taking courses like Professional Responsibility and Evidence because I began to see what my role would look like as a litigator. Granted, many seasoned lawyers will say law practice is nothing like law school; however, I would assert that although Rome was not built in a day, three years of urban planning courses is a fantastic development advantage!

Law school provides an opportunity for the focused law student to receive the introduction to skills necessary to debut in a professional world that puts capital on competence. A new lawyer may be just as competent as a seasoned lawyer, given that some vital skills—legal research, writing, and analysis—are requisite in handling all legal matters.

For a profession that remains to be one of the slowest adapting in terms of increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is imperative that lawyers and law students see law schools as training grounds for talent and not merely threshing floors. It is as the maxim states: “Practice at home spreads abroad.”

Law school prepares students to practice—period.