In terms of lawyer education, you may have heard the saying that “law school teaches you to think like a lawyer”. I agree with this statement, but as a non-lawyer you might be asking yourself how does law school accomplish this, and what exactly does it mean to think like a lawyer? Before we even venture into explaining how lawyer education accomplishes this feat (another web page) let me first explain to you how to define “thinking like a lawyer”.
Most members of the public that have had dealings with lawyers have observed that lawyers think differently vs. non-lawyers. It appears to non-lawyers that lawyers go through a rather mechanical and detached logical progression when discussing legal matters; a logical progression that appears to take into account facts that may be insignificant to the non-lawyer. This is basically a very accurate observation, but is not completely correct.
There are numerous mental progression elements that in combination describe “thinking like a lawyer”. From the global perspective, a lawyer’s goal is to provide a solution to a client’s problem. Moreover, something that few clients (and even fewer lawyers) consciously understand is that a client is also seeking empathy (or emotional understanding) from his/her lawyer (more on this later). So the first step in confronting any legal analysis is for the lawyer to obtain the basic facts of the situation. The basic facts determine the issue of law and what rule of law will be applied.
Once the lawyer knows the basic facts he/she identifies the legal issue at hand, and then asks questions to determine the Relevant Facts. How does the lawyer identify the relevant facts? This is a brought about by experiencing the lawyer education, which we will explain in another article. But for now know this, there is a circular logic “dance” between 1) the facts of the situation and 2) the law.
This is a very difficult concept to follow, but try to understand that the lawyer will recognize the relevant facts because of his/her global knowledge of the law and being able to identify the Legal Issue. Which of these two elements is more important? The facts are more important… facts determine the issue and rule of law applied.
For example, let’s say you have a given set of facts:
A man (your client) walks into a bar (he is sober), another patron attempts to stab him, the man takes the knife from his attacker and kills his attacker.
Given these facts a lawyer’s mind would immediately jump to the legal issue of “Self Defense”. This is the issue determination, a skill which is acquired in your lawyer education. Self Defense has a set legal criteria that must be met in order to use as a defense (let’s ignore complicated elements such as non-Model Penal Code States, etc). Now that the Issue has been identified, the lawyer will ask the client questions about the facts which would concern the standard criteria for “Self Defense” such as; Was the man honestly scared for his life? Would a reasonable person be scared for their lives in the same situation? Etc. Your client’s answers to your questions regarding the legal criteria are the Relevant Facts.
Having obtained that further factual information, the lawyer would be able to analyze the situation and determine whether or not a claim of self-defense would likely (or not likely) be a valid defense.
So in summary, thinking like a lawyer is defined by the combination of the following elements:
1) Obtain an understanding of the basic facts.
2) Identifying the Issue of law.
3) Obtain a deeper understanding of the relevant facts.
4) Identifying the proper rule of rule.
5) Apply relevant legal facts to the proper rule of law.
6) Come to a legal conclusion.
Learn more about the lawyer logical progression, read Lawyer Education and the Lawyer Thought Process Continued…
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