10 Lessons You Weren’t Taught In Law School
It is often said law schools fail to prepare students for the actual practice of law. Yes, law school does a good job at training you to “think like a lawyer” and spot issues, do legal research, draft legal documents, and put together a legal argument. But there are so many practical things that law school doesn’t teach you, especially a number of soft skills. This includes things like social grace, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, optimism, and resilience. Here are ten critical skills missing from many law school curricula.
1. How to Handle Conflict
“Don’t Let Intimidation Drive Your Litigation Strategy” Most of the time, your client will be in a conflict with someone else. Your role is to represent the client in the conflict with competence. Most people don’t enjoy being in conflict. Conflict is uncomfortable, triggers stress responses, and can make you angry. Because of our desire to win, it often brings out the absolute worst in all of us. Law schools should teach ways of engaging in conflict that are constructive, healthy, and maintains civil relationships with opposing counsel. This can be done by valuing emotional intelligence, tact, and grace over aggression. Law schools should teach students that they are a part of the larger legal community, and today’s opposing counsel may be tomorrow’s judge, co-counsel, co-worker, or your best referral partner. Students should never think about an interaction with a particular lawyer as a single transaction. Law students should also learn different conflict styles and be familiar with their own conflict style. Graduates should come with a toolbox full of different ways of living with, working through, and managing conflict. It’s not enough to teach or talk about civility as an abstract concept. Students should also understand that conflict isn’t inherently bad, and can be used as an opportunity to grow and strengthen a relationship.
2. How to Forgive
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.” – Nelson Mandela I used to walk around with a rolodex of every terrible thing that people said or did to me. This included classmates, bosses, co-workers, judges, opposing counsel, clients, family, and friends. That’s a lot of baggage to carry around.
When you’re in the conflict management business, people are bound to step on your toes and piss you off. How do you let go of these feelings of anger, resentment, hostility and revenge? How do you stop these experiences from consuming you? The answer lies with forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget about what the other person did (that’s probably unwise anyway). It doesn’t mean you have to kiss and makeup. It’s not about repairing the relationship, although, in certain situations, it can certainly involve that. And it doesn’t mean letting the other person off the hook or condoning their behaviour. The primary beneficiary of forgiveness is yourself.
Law schools can foster an environment where forgiveness is a valued skill by encouraging professors to discuss it in the classroom and give students the opportunity to practice it. To forgive each other can enhance the moral of the student body and increase social bond.
3. How to Have Difficult and Uncomfortable Conversations
I could not have imagined the incredibly difficult conversations I would have with my clients over the years. There are the usual uncomfortable calls to remind a client about an unpaid invoice, quoting a fee, or telling her that you lost a Motion for Summary Judgement. We constantly deal with incredibly delicate issues and are charged with delivering life altering news yet we don’t receive any training on how to do this. We also don’t receive any training on ways to manage our own internal challenges of being in these difficult situations. It took me many years to figure out how to manage these difficult conversations with grace, authenticity, and...
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