Monday, October 5, 2009

Thinking like a Lawyer

When we started law school we were told over and over again that we are not here to learn the law, but rather, to learn how to think like a lawyer. In some sense, we are being brainwashed; our old ways of thinking need to be erased to make way for the lawyerly way of thinking. Our professors employ the Socratic method in class to emphasize the need for constant questioning, the hallmark of a good lawyer. It's hard to describe this philosophy of teaching because it is by definition largely insubstantial - it is meant to frame our way of thinking. Our professors question our assertions, court opinions, and statutes, in order to get us to start thinking in this way. It is a wonderful intellectual exercise.

And it's starting to rub off. It's funny talking to other 1L's and noticing that we are all becoming a bit more lawyerly in our speaking and our thought. I also notice this in conversation with my parents, friends, and Robby. The other day I accused Robby of an act "without my knowledge or consent." A friend of mine here at school was debating selling her parking space for the most recent home football game and wondered aloud whether she's selling the space or merely the rights to the space for that period, and whether she had a right to do either. It's pretty dorky how exciting it is for us novice law students to see that the "thinking like a lawyer" is settling in. But that's what we're here for and it's validating to see some proof that our education is working.

I acutely noticed what a legal dork I am turning into this past weekend, when I attended a friend's wedding in upstate New York. I was seated next to a high school friend of the groom who I hadn't met before the wedding, and who graduated from law school a few years ago. Of course, we had law school in common so it's no surprise that that's generally where our conversation went. He told me he only dates lawyers now, which terrified me. He explained it in the in terms of "thinking like a lawyer," which made more sense. When you are able to think like your partner, it can make things a little easier. We then got going about the Constitution and he surprised me by saying he's an originalist, and politically liberal. While these two ideas aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, they're not found together as often as originalism and conservatism. We laughed about Scalia's ornery opinions and debated the merits of originalism in a democratic society. About four glasses of wine deep, I quoted Marshall's, "this is a constitution we are expounding." We shared a love of the Constitution and its enduring beauty and we both seemed genuinely excited by the conversation.

I learned the next day that everyone else at our table was laughing at us.

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