Do lawyers think differently? Very definitely. I see this truth in two areas of my life: a) when I address a problem and b) when I gather information to solve the problem.
At University of San Diego School of Law in 1977, I left with a law degree and an understanding of law from cases that were usually several decades old. Those cases are seldom cited today, and probably should not be cited, except in rare instances. Rather, we were told that the purpose of studying these cases was to learn how lawyers and judges think: how are we to identify and resolve the legal issues?
Thank God I was taught to think like a lawyer, because that has been the only unchanging factor in my ability to pursue my profession. Everything else has changed, and will continue to change: the type of case, the particular facts of the case, and particularly the law of the case. Decisions are continuously being published that change the definition of “rights and duties” under the law. I have no complaints with that: it has been fun and challenging. It is a real plus that I enjoy novelty, change, and challenge. I also love to research the law to get to the precise governing principle that will decide the issues.
But thinking like a lawyer has its drawbacks. It basically belongs in the courtroom or law offices, and should be left there. I would not suggest using it for a romantic evening with your beloved. It shouldn’t be employed to communicate with your children, or to console a distraught wife. It’s a poor mechanism for creating art, or enjoying the creative work of others. It is a fine analytical tool, but unfit for most of your really important relationships, including friendships. Don’t try it at parties. You’ll be sent home early.
But today, in its place, this “thinking like a lawyer” provided me a source of satisfaction. I routinely receive a signficant number of inquiries about employment issues from prospective clients. Some of these come to me from an online questionnaire I developed. The questionnaire calls for a signficant amount of information. I must quickly comb through it to assess possible cases from the usual “noise.” I spent two hours today going over eight factual situations sent to me by prospective clients. I basically employed the “IRAC” method. I used this same method to write my essays for the Bar Exam long ago. The key is to spot the issues, and to spot them all, and then to assess the likely resolution of those issues based on the facts and law. This the essence of what a lawyer does. Simple on one level, but requiring unusual knowledge and skill on another. Then, among the best lawyers, the challenge is to know the answers so deeply that you can communicate them simply and clearly to a person untrained in the law.
The other day, I co-hosted a party at which there was a guest lyricist and musician. His lyrics were unusual, and a little shocking to some of my friends. I opened the floor to questions, and identified some of the areas of inquiry that the guests might have. Later, my musician friend pointed out to me that when I opened these areas of inquiry by asking specific questions of how people felt, I sounded like a lawyer conducting a deposition. It was true. I slip into that mode so easily. I had to laugh, admitting I need to be in a “lawyers anonymous” recovery program somewhere.