f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

March 18, 2004

Teaching/Learning What a Lawyer Should Know

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:27 pm

Like Carolyn at MyShingle and Nancy in Stark County, I think Unbillable Hours’ TPB, Esq has a lot of wisdom to offer on what a lawyer needs to know to serve his or her clients well.

In an essay caled on On Thinking Like a Client, which originally appeared at DeNovo, Lawyer B says

“We need to know humanity. We need to find a way to bridge the gap between our own experiences and the experiences of others so that we may better serve them.”

TPB adds:

 In order to serve a client well, you need to understand how that client thinks. Law school is not the place to learn that. It is there to teach you how the law works and how judges, lawyers, and other decision-makers think.  Outside study, whether of psychology, economics, criminal science, sociology, or simply of how drunk bar patrons act, is necessary to understand your clients and to serve their interests zealously.  (emphasis added)

diner dude . . .

Of course, I had to offer two cents of my own on the topic.  Since I hadn’t posted yet today, I have pasted my Comments to TPB below, concurring in part and dissenting a little:

The attitudes and skills that you’re discussing are so integral to the practice of the legal profession, that helping law students begin to acquire those skills should be at the core of the law school curriculum. The fact that law school can only begin the process of learning to understand and empathize with our clients (and our colleagues, judges, opponents, etc.) is really no different than with any of the skills that we hope are acquired in law school.

pointer dude neg  It’s been 30 years since I started law school, but back then we did not spend one minute learning about how to understand and deal with the fears, anger, needs of human beings that would be our clients (nor even how to conduct any interview). Perhaps the single most important introduction for me to those skills was my first mediation training seminar — just 40 hours over one weekend, with a multi-disciplinary team of instructors. The aptitudes and attitudes needed to be a good mediator are the very ones you’ve pointed to.

I used to say that a divorce mediator could simultaneously commit malpractice in several professions — law, psychology, accounting and more. But the single most important skill for a good mediator or counselor at law is being a good listener. The good listener can understand, and gain trust, and coax out a story, and help reframe and solve problems. The rudiments of listening well can indeed be taught. Our colleges aren’t doing it, so our law schools must.

Then, with that degree on the wall, lawyers have to remember that continuing to learn about human beings and being human is an everyday, active, participatory obligation of our “learned” profession.

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