Lawyer Education and Thinking Like a Lawyer: Emotional Detachment.

Law school lawyer education will also train you for another important element of thinking like a lawyer (and something that many non-lawyers complain about); the detachment of emotions from a given situation. The law is supposed to be fair, equitable and is not intended to weigh feelings or emotions (except in certain circumstances such as measurement of personal injury damages). Lawyers deal with problems… often problems that are personal in nature to the client. Because clients have a personal interest in the matter you will find that they can often become very emotional about their situation. This is a natural response to a situation that is not only stressful, but also a journey into the unfamiliar legal world, if the client has not had prior experience dealing with the law and lawyers.

An excited and emotional state of mind is the incorrect state of mind when making important decisions or discovering solutions to a problem. To properly find a solution to any problem you need to have a calm and relaxed mind… “A relaxed mind is a quick mind.” This was a quote from a very good friend of mine (and martial arts legend). He was referring to fighting, but the quote applies to any situation where there is a problem and a solution needs to be discovered. If you are excited and emotional you cannot think logically. This leads us to another aspect of thinking like a lawyer… logical thought progression.

So let’s say I am at a party and someone asks me a legal question… Let’s say the question is about speeding tickets. For some reason non-lawyers always assume there is a class in law school about speeding tickets or other moving violations (there isn’t) and that every lawyer has experienced some form of lawyer education regarding such matters. I do not practice municipal law, but early in my career I did make several appearances for moving violations. Therefore, first and foremost I would start off with a disqualification; I would inform the party goer that I do not do that type of law, but instruct the party goer to tell me the story from the beginning. I do this for two reason, #1 I want to see if there are any important facts the person left out of the story (clients have a nasty habit of leaving out important facts, either out of ignorance or embarrassment), and #2 people do not just want legal answers when they speak with a lawyer… they want someone to relate to them on an emotional level. So I give them the bambi eyes, nod my head and basically try to convey that I understand their feelings and frustrations. When they have talked themselves out I will then give them my opinion of the legal matter by providing the general law and how the facts of their case apply to the matter.

Having an answer to someone’s question is not the only part of dealing with people (or clients etc). Studies have shown that most of human communication is non-verbal, therefor if you answer the person’s question and you do not look them in the eye, or you stutter or appear unsure of yourself (even if you have the correct answer) your audience will not trust your answer. You have to confidently state your answer to the client (or person you are talking to at a party). Trust me, people pay a lot more attention to HOW something is said vs. WHAT is actually said. This is not something that will be explicitly explained to you in your lawyer education but it is an important lesson for you to learn!

Remember the above as you proceed to prepare for law school and further throughout your lawyer education… this is wisdom that even most experienced lawyers never consciously consider.


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