April 25, 2007
The "Do We Need to Know..." Trilogy: Part 2 - The Little Judgment Calls Real Lawyers Make Right from the Start
Another one of my evasions to the "do we need to know..." question (besides saying that students should think of the law as Jewish scholars thought of the Talmud - a sea across which we could never swim) is to recall the first time I had to write a research memo for a partner in a law firm as a summer associate. As is often the case with summer associate research assignments, the issue was particularly arcane and fact specific. The partner didn't give me a page or word limit. He didn't say "just restrict your research to the Michigan digests." He didn't say how long I should spend on it. All he gave me was the assignment and a due date.
The fact is that he didn't know the answer, which is why I got the assignment. Any question akin to a pre-test "do we need to know?" (like "do I need to look at?" or "how long should I spend?") would have provoked different and perhaps unpleasant responses, depending on the lawyer (caveat to the "how long" question - you might get a response that says if you haven't anything in X hours of research time, come back to me). While the more senior lawyers in the litigation or in the transaction make the BIG judgment calls, young lawyers start making little judgment calls right off the bat. "I am the only person researching this issue, and only I know if I have looked hard enough for the answer. Only I know if I have gone past the time of diminishing returns in the research. Only I know if it's time to stop researching and time to start writing. Only I know if I need to know anything else to answer the question."
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