We are excited to welcome Lakota Denton, a personal injury lawyer in Asheville, North Carolina. He shares his reflections on the law school experience and explores what he actually learned in school. Welcome, Lakota!
Law school teaches a lot of things, but it could be argued that it doesn’t prepare one for some of the practical realities of being a lawyer. As a personal injury lawyer, I have learned almost everything I know about practicing law since graduating from school: from other attorneys, seminars, organizations, and educational material. Law school did, however, teach me some invaluable skills that directly apply to my practice.
The Ability to Think Like An Attorney
This term gets used a lot, but what does it actually refer to? In my experience, it means learning to view legal issues and disputes from both sides of the argument. As an example, I had a call from a potential client this morning who had a problem that is not uncommon for a personal injury lawyer to hear. He was injured in a car crash almost a month ago and has not been to the doctor since the time of the accident. Like clockwork, the insurance company for the at-fault driver is refusing to pay for any medical treatment because they say it’s been too long since the incident.
Before my law school education, I would have been inclined to view this situation as totally unfair, taken the case, and argued hard that the injuries were a direct result of the accident. My training in law school helped me step back and see this dispute from both sides. I explained to the gentleman that without seeing a doctor for 26 days, it would be hard to prove that the injuries were a direct result of the crash. It is easily plausible that the injuries occurred some time in the interim (this is why I always recommend seeking medical evaluation and/or treatment immediately following a car wreck just in case there is delayed onset of injury symptoms).
“Thinking like an attorney” means seeing beyond your client’s side of the argument, and making decisions based on a “big picture” analysis of the situation.
Patience For Learning Boring and Tedious Information
There’s no shortage of information and curriculum in law school that you will find boring and uninteresting. Want to be a criminal defense attorney? Guess what: you have to learn things like tax law, and corporate law as components of a well rounded legal education. Imagine sitting through 6 months of tax law, and learning it well enough to get that A grade. I personally didn’t learn anything helpful to my practice as a personal injury lawyer in Tax Law class, but I learned how to be patient and keep focus on mind numbingly boring material, which has come in very handy in my practice. Whenever I have to learn the in’s and out’s of insurance subrogation, and how it interacts with federal and state law, Medicare and Medicaid. Boring, yes, but essential for me to successful at my job.
Preparation is Key
Your entire grade in law school often boils down to a single 2-3 hour-long exam, the bulk of which in essay/written form. The amount preparation required to get an A on this type of exam is incredible. I learned how to take 6 months worth of class notes and distill it down to a several page outline, designed for memorization, in order to help me answer questions successfully. I had to employ mnemonics and acronyms in order to catalog all of the information in my brain.
Do I remember all of it to this day? Not hardly, but I remember how to prepare for a trial in similar ways, in an effort to maximize my mental bandwidth and give me as many tools as possible when I’m thinking on my feet in a court room. This skill is of immeasurable value in my job and helps me every day.
Law school may not teach much substance (unless you’re on track to be a professor), but it does teach skills that are necessary in my job as a personal injury attorney. If you’re considering law school, or are in the throes of it currently, try to look at the bigger picture. Three years and $140k doesn’t seem quite so futile and pointless once you understand what you’ll get from it in the end.
Thanks, Lakota! Great advice!
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And check out these other helpful posts:
- You Are a Lawyer Already, Practice Management
- Misconceptions I had About Law School Before Starting
- Suggestions for Surviving/Optimizing Law School Orientation
- Want to Get Good Law School Grades: Become a Self-Starter
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