Among the professors’ promises made to me when I started law school, the biggest was that I would be taught to “think like a lawyer.”
In today’s world, much of the world’s knowledge is easily accessible through the internet or in local libraries. However, serious, deep and analytical thinking is exhausting, and most of us try to avoid it. British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds once remarked that, “There is no expedient to which a man (or woman) will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”
Thinking like a lawyer is different from simply having knowledge. Thinking like a lawyer involves analyzing a situation in the context of written laws that may or may not apply to that specific situation.
Thinking like a lawyer generally has four main attributes. First, lawyers separate situations into distinct parts and organize the parts into individual issues that can be thought about separately. This is often unique because human instinct is to generalize situations.
This attribute of thinking like a lawyer is a part of my own personal life. As a result, I never tell my nieces and nephews that they are bad. I tell them that they made one or more bad choices.
Second, attorneys usually try to think rationally without emotion. Anyone who has had to make significant decisions while grieving or recovering from a broken heart can attest to the inability to think clearly when emotionally involved.
Perhaps the two biggest emotional endeavors in life are love and war. As such, the saying, “All is fair in love and war,” makes sense. When we are very emotional, we are liable to do anything. Attorneys are expected to put their emotions aside when doing their jobs.
And, because we attorneys are obviously very emotionally invested in our own lives, we joke with each other that: “An attorney representing himself or herself has a fool for a client.”
Third, lawyers use logic. Attorneys are expected to take complex situations and organize the pieces in ways that lead to consistent and inescapable results.
Illustratively, if it is raining, it is usually cloudy. However, just because it is cloudy does not mean that it is raining. Attorneys use similar logic to explain that just because state governments cannot enforce immigration laws, the federal government is not required to enforce immigration laws.
Fourth, lawyers analyze situations from different perspectives. Quite often, a standard in deciding whether any act is legally proper is to determine whether that act is “reasonable.” What is reasonable to you may be different from what is reasonable to me. Therefore, attorneys will always attempt to see every situation from every possible perspective, even, or perhaps especially, when that perspective is different from the attorney’s own, personal view.
Attorneys’ knowledge of the law is obviously a component of thinking like a lawyer. However, the number of laws in our country, state and communities means that attorneys frequently have to do research like everyone else, even to see if the law has changed.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.