Monday, March 4, 2013
"Thinking like a lawyer" boils down to habitually asking two questions:
1) Why is that true?
2) Why does that matter?
Practically all of law practice and law study can be summarized in those two sentences. Of course, each carries its implicit opposite: Is that true? and Does that matter? But the answer to the two basic questions answers the others.
Most lawyers ask those questions so routinely that they become an ingrained part of their thinking, an automatic response to evidence, regardless of its source.
In preparing for trial, for example, a good lawyer examines each piece of evidence presented by any party and asks those two questions. When interviewing a client, deposing a witness, conducting negotiations, examining a witness on the stand -- a good lawyer asks those two questions, silently perhaps, all along the way.
If you want to understand a case deeply, ask the two questions after each step in the reasoning. If you want stay effectively engaged during class, ask the two questions after every assertion by a student or the professor. If you want to write a legal memorandum or brief to the court, ask the two questions after every sentence until the questions are completely answered.
If you want to gather as many points as possible on an essay exam, ask the two questions after every sentence until the questions are completely answered.
If you want to think like a veteran lawyer, ask the two questions all the time, until they become a natural part of how you think.
Students routinely hear that their thinking or their writing is "too conclusory." The two magic questions make that criticism go away.