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You’ve heard the cynics — “Law school teaches nothing practical,” “It’s a ticket to punch” or “a rite of passage on the way to the real show — the practice of law.” These naysayers may be your colleagues, your supervising attorney or even you. The concerns expressed are very real. Does legal education have anything to do with the practice of law? Is law school simply a hazing exercise? Or does law school actually matter to a lawyer’s professional development? Ultimately, it can be either, and the difference will come in the way that you, a new lawyer, actively work to connect legal education with law practice. Some benefits of law school are obvious — the opportunity to develop contacts with classmates who may later refer business and with professors who may serve as expert witnesses or answer thorny legal questions for you. Law school, however, offers so much more. So, before you join the chorus of “half-empty” folks and lament about the wasted dollars associated with your legal education, here are some specific ways to connect the less-obvious dots. DISCIPLINE Law school teaches discipline. We professors know how rigid we can be, and much of it is purposeful. Students quickly learn that they probably can’t wear ball caps to class, can’t walk in late, must show up prepared, better not let the cell phone ring during the lecture, must turn in papers by the deadline and not an instant afterward — and a host of other requirements. Lawyers live by these rules and many others on a daily basis, and the discipline we require of you is a lifetime habit. Here’s why: • won’t wear the ball cap to interview a client. • pleading can’t be filed an instant after the courthouse closes at 5 p.m. • you were No. 2 on the motion calendar, you walk in late and the judge is talking to No. 3, that usually means you lost. • your cell phone rings in court, the bailiff will probably escort you out, and your client will be left without representation. In short, discipline is what allows an attorney to operate within the confines of our ethical and professional guidelines — and stay diligent and focused. TIME-KEEPING Law school also taught you time-keeping, a sometimes-overlooked but absolutely necessary part of the business of law. As a student, you likely had to document your hours of pro bono work, something that more and more schools require. In addition, at many schools law-review students are required to keep track of their time and report it weekly. Time is taken into consideration when students’ grades are computed (just as it is taken into consideration when lawyers’ salaries are set and when promotion decisions are made). These school-related activities forced you to get in the habit of being accountable for your time. Thus, you already have many of the time-keeping basics under your belt. Lawyers who engage in hourly billing have to keep their time very precisely, sometimes in 15, 12, or even six-minute increments. Because lawyers essentially sell their time, they must keep time accurately so that they can get paid. Even lawyers who engage in contingency billing are best served to keep track of their time so they can judge their own efficiency or demonstrate to clients how the fee was earned. New lawyers are often shocked at the amount of time that time-keeping requires. And it matters — time that isn’t recorded and promptly billed is lost forever, and for lawyers, time really is money. Overbilling is at least as bad. The managing attorney at my first firm said it this way: “Padding your hours is stealing from the client. Underbilling is stealing from the firm.” TIME MANAGEMENT Law school also taught another important skill — how to manage time. You may have had to schedule and shepherd along law review, trial team or moot court meetings. Competitions are not put on without an incredible amount of planning, scheduling and persuading practitioners and judges to participate. Law reviews and journals are certainly not published without numerous discussions with editors, cite-checkers and contributing authors. Study groups, too, require much in the way of management: How long do we meet, where, and how do we best use our time while we are together? Law students who are involved in the major organizations on campus have, often without realizing it, multiple opportunities to hone these management skills because campus organizations are primarily student-run. These management skills are absolutely crucial to the practice of law. Managing a daily workload or setting an agenda for a litigation-strategy meeting is part of a lawyer’s regular responsibility. If you work in a firm that does hourly billing, meetings cost the client a fortune because everyone in the room is running their meter at the same time. Because of this, the client rightly expects to see big things come out of a meeting. And meetings are often just the opposite of that — a royal waste of time. New lawyers can incorporate the strategies that worked in school meetings or study group sessions, such as designating someone to lead the meeting, starting with an identifiable agenda, staying focused on the task at hand, agreeing to shelve certain issues for later discussion, or seeking guidance from someone more knowledgeable. CLIENT INTERVIEWS Law school also taught you how to conduct an initial client interview. Remember the experience of taking a law school exam? A complex hypothetical fact pattern is an excellent simulation of an initial client conversation. When you take an exam, you sort through information — cast out the red herrings, organize the facts by relevant cause of action and indicate where the holes are. You can use these skills every time a potential client walks into your office. During the initial interview, the potential client will tell you a number of things that are relevant to his cause of action. He also will say a number of things that, while interesting, are not the least bit relevant to your representation of him. He will almost certainly leave out a number of facts that are absolutely critical to your analysis of the merits of his case. Just as with a law school exam, it is important to pay careful attention, sort out the relevant facts from the irrelevant ones, ask the right questions to find and highlight the holes in the case and organize your thoughts before you respond. THINKING ON YOUR FEET Law school taught you to think on your feet, both in and out of court. Remember the experience of being called on in class? In law school, the professor expected you to be able to recite the relevant facts of each assigned case in class and to relay the procedural posture accurately. The professor then questioned you about how to apply the law to a new set of hypothetical facts. This exercise requires an answer — not necessarily the “correct” one, but one that is logical and supportable. Being questioned by a supervising attorney or in court by a judge involves the same dynamic. You won’t know how much (or how little) the judge has looked at your case until she begins to ask questions. She may have taken particular interest in your case, such that she knows as much about the law as you do. In this situation, she will ask you very precise, targeted questions. Because you know how to brief a case and recite it, you can pull out the relevant facts, the applicable rule of law, or if the judge wants to know the procedural posture of a case cited as precedent, you know that too. Sometimes, however, in court, just as in class, you will be asked something you don’t understand, or you won’t know the answer. In either case, your goal is to demonstrate a supportable position in favor of your client and inspire the confidence of the judge without making inaccurate or misleading statements. Alternatively, she may have such an overloaded docket that she needs you to take it from the top, as in, “Tell me about this case.” Her background before she became a judge may have been as a specialist in another area of law, and she may need you to orient her in this area of law. So you must target your discussion of the case to her needs. In any event, your responses should demonstrate that you are prepared and that you can be trusted to give an accurate and insightful summary or answer. As a veteran of the Socratic method, you graduate from law school knowing exactly how to handle this situation. MENTORING AND BEING MENTORED Law school taught you how to be both a mentee and a mentor, both of which are critical for transforming you from a competent lawyer to a great lawyer. Mentors come in many forms in law school — perhaps an upperclassman or a professor or a practitioner. What they have in common is their willingness to share insight and advice. Student organizations also play a major role in mentoring, both by making it possible for first-year students and upperclassmen to get to know one another and through networking events that introduce students and practitioners. As a practitioner, mentoring relationships are even more crucial. Lawyers of every experience level benefit from having a mentor. Likewise, new lawyers have the responsibility to nurture and support the younger lawyers who will be coming up behind them. The law is still a service profession — I firmly believe that. But it is also a business and, especially for newly minted lawyers, it is important that the business necessities of practicing law not get in the way of your success. Everything about law school is intended to support the development of skills and abilities important to lawyering, including discipline, management skills, the ability to sift important matters from unimportant ones and the willingness to continue to learn and teach others. The degree to which that happens often depends on your ability to take experiences from law school and apply them in the context of practice. So, the next time you hear that law school teaches “nothing practical,” remember that your professional training started the minute you walked into your first-year contracts class — and were asked to turn off that cell phone. Kristen David Adams is an associate professor and the Leroy Highbaugh Sr. Chair in Faculty Research at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa Bay, Fla. Christen Civiletto Carey, a private practitioner, adjunct professor of law, frequent lecturer and certified arbitrator and mediator in western New York, contributed to this article. Adams and Carey are the co-authors of “The Practice of Law School:Getting In and Making the Most of Your Law School Education.” • Practice Center articlesinform readers on developments in substantive law, practice issues or law firm management. Contact News Editor Candice McFarland with submissions or questions at [email protected]or go to www.therecorder.com/submissions.html.

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