Law Students and Young Lawyers

Understanding Crazy

According to the fictional Professor Kingsfield in the movie “The Paper Chase,” law students “come in … (to law school) … with a skull full of mush and … leave thinking like a lawyer.”

I have often wondered whether I would have been better off keeping my mushy mind so that I could think like a normal person, but that is a question for another day.

Although law schools teach students to understand and apply legal principles, there is plenty of stuff that they never mention, including the importance of having a rudimentary understanding of psychology.

To give you an example, many years ago I sought assistance from a psychologist to help me deal with my domestic reorganization. After speaking to me for a few minutes he decided that it was vitally important to administer some tests to see if I was crazy. Upon reviewing the results, he told me that although I had scored within the normal range in every category, when it came to paranoia there was not much daylight between me and nuts. That was a valuable insight. After that, when my head started spinning with fear that I had made a mistake and was going to get sued, I would remind myself that was just my paranoia speaking and calm down.

Students arrive at law school from diverse backgrounds. These differences extend to psychological make-up, cultural background, and socio-economic status. Some arrive fresh from studying day and night for many years, having sacrificed other forms of personal development. Others enter the profession having had prior careers. Some have had extensive business backgrounds and others have had none.

Everyone is different, but we all need to understand ourselves, and others.

Practicing law is a high-stakes game in which lawyers win in negotiations, mediations, arbitrations, and litigation by skilfully interacting with their own clients, each other, mediators, arbitrators, and judges.

One lawyer may know the law better than the other lawyer, or have better technical skills, and those factors may impact the results obtained for the client. However, it is frequently the lawyer’s ability to communicate effectively that makes the difference, and that depends on their ability to understand other people.

In my case, I learned that my tendency toward paranoia was a good thing to the extent that it made me careful about the risks in any situation, but a bad thing in that it made me nervous and too quick to react. Someone knowing that about me could use it to their advantage.

On the flip side of the coin, I eventually learned how important it is to know as much as possible about what makes the other side and their lawyer tick. Figuring out where they were coming from helped me do a better job for my client.

Neither law school nor the Law Society is going to teach you this stuff. Think about investing your own time and money to learn it.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

2 replies on “Understanding Crazy”

Love your insights, as always! Thanks for sharing. I definitely see myself in what you’re saying about feeling paranoid sometimes. it is comforting to know I’m not alone in that. Now, I’m realizing I need to take action on it. Otherwise, it could be exploited by others, especially when I’m representing clients.

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