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7 Things I Wish Law School Taught Me

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 14, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Being out of law school for a few years and actually practicing, it's startling how unprepared I was, both substantively and in terms of practicing. Law school, it's well understood, doesn't do a very good job of preparing you for anything.

What it does do (maybe) is teach you how to think like a lawyer, but not how to actually be a lawyer or what to know as a lawyer. Here are some things I wish law school had taught me.

1. How to negotiate with opposing counsel

Black-letter law is great, but many "soft skills" like negotiating go untaught. Law students are left to infer that lawyers go to the mat for their clients, which is true, but only in the movies are lawyers so ostentatiously stubborn. In real life, we have something called "professional courtesy." Not to mention a little human feeling (one hopes).

2. My jurisdiction's actual laws

What's that? California has a weird rule about renewing motions to dismiss? That's right -- and the statute doesn't say anything about it, so you don't know it's an issue unless someone else tells you. Meanwhile, I get to learn the Federal Rules of Evidence (don't care), the rule against perpetuities (irrelevant in basically every state), and weird constitutional issues that never come up in the real world, like presidential pardons.

3. Bidness

Law's a profession, not a business -- say the people who've never had to run a small firm. When you're a solo or small firm practitioner, law is both a profession and a business. Law school basically needs to teach students the ABCs of how to operate a small business.

4. Time management

Law school teaches you time management when it comes to studying and writing papers, but in the real world, time management means something else. How do you divide up time on clients? And importantly, how do you know when it's time to stop researching? In school, you can go through the legal databases all the live-long day, but in the real world, you can't bill the client for 40 hours of research just so you could find the needle in the haystack (which you didn't, by the way).

5. How to write like a human being

You could fill the empty, useless World Cup stadiums in Rio de Janeiro with the world's bad legal writing. Law schools aren't helping; they teach IRAC and then call it a day, leaving it up to students to figure out what their voice should be. Instead, schools should provide guidance on how to be a good writer, not just a legal one.

6. How to network

Knowing someone is basically how we get all our jobs. Law schools need to not only give students networking opportunities, but show students how to fully utilize them. Don't be a wallflower and don't hang out with your friends; go meet new people!

7. Procedural issues

Do you know how to file a complaint? Where to file it? What it should look like? Law school sure isn't going to tell you. It also won't tell you the importance of local rules. Basically, you learn the mechanics of being a lawyer in your jurisdiction through practice, asking others, and making a lot of mistakes.

Doesn't seem like the most efficient system, does it?

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