Under Analysis: What they really should teach in law school

 Lisa Henderson-Newlin, The Levison Group

I’ve been out of law school for eight years. That may not seem like a long time, but it’s long enough to realize there’s no spring break when you’re a lawyer and there definitely aren’t cheat sheets to get you through the tough cases.

I know. I’ve looked.

Since I’ve been practicing law, I’ve come to some realizations about the profession and what is needed to properly prepare for a life in this vocation. Discovering orange and purple highlighters in law school was an epiphany that almost made those three years worthwhile, but it didn’t teach me how to handle a difficult opponent.

Although I’m grateful for the highlighter realization, and my files are now highlighted with varying colors, there are many real-life lessons law school didn’t teach. In an effort to better my future legal brethren, I’ve drafted a list of lessons law schools should implement to better educate the lawyers of tomorrow.

How to annoy your opponent

This is a skill many have mastered, but it should still be touched upon in law school. Come to think of it, this may be something best learned from your sibling while sitting in the back seat of a long drive cross-country. I owe my ability to annoy to my brother. If it wasn’t for his incessant taunting of “I’m not touching you!” I wouldn’t be nearly as effective at annoying my opponent as I am today. 

How to use the copy machine

This is something I wish my years of schooling would have taught. To this day I don’t know how to work the fancy copy machines in my office. If my secretary is out and I need something copied, I’m better off taking a picture of the document with my iPhone and sending it to opposing counsel. It’s easier and doesn’t result in me yelling profanities in the office while suggesting the copier was born out of wedlock.

How to eat a burger and fries while dictating a letter and drafting a brief

As lawyers, we are masters of multitasking, but it’s a skill that takes time to develop, and one that’s best taught in law school. Spare moments are rare during the workday and eating often gets overlooked unless it’s done while completing another task. Learning how to eat while doing other tasks is a much needed skill.

As for the type of food you eat, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a burger and fries, but if you have the option of a burger and fries, you should take it. 

Perhaps that should be another lesson.

How to get ketchup out of a wool suit

This is a lesson that’s directly related to the previous lesson. If you aren’t lucky enough to have learned this skill, I know a dry cleaner who works miracles.

How to wear cufflinks

If any of you geniuses can figure that out, let me know and give me a tutorial. I only wish this was part of the curriculum when I was in school.

What to tell people when they ask what you do

The seemingly innocuous question of “What do you do?” can lead attorneys down a dangerous road. Saying you’re a lawyer is often a queue for others to ask ridiculous questions about landlord-tenant disputes or Roe v. Wade. It’s important to learn how to tell someone you’re not interested in fixing their nana’s speeding ticket without offending. 

I usually tell people I’m a dental hygienist. It avoids most of these issues.

Who to ask whenever you have a question

This is an easy lesson to learn. It’s the clerk. It’s always the clerk. He can save you from nearly any disaster, and he’s only a phone call away. He’s your lifeline and someone you don’t want to forget when it comes to holiday gift-giving.

How to refrain from pointing out procedural errors on legal TV shows

This is harder than it sounds, especially if you’re a brilliant hearsay expert. I’m not, but I pretend like I am and object to nearly everything while watching “Law and Order” with others. I can’t keep quiet, but it’s not necessarily because it’s a legal show. I generally have that problem no matter the program.

What it means to order steak tartare

This is not something you want to learn the hard way, out at a restaurant with clients. I’m speaking from experience. Nothing is more surprising than expecting a serving of steak drenched in creamy tartar sauce and receiving raw beef covered in egg yolk. A quick lesson on how to consume raw meat with a straight face would have been much appreciated.

If only the good folks at law school would ask my advice on what should be a part of the curriculum, I would gladly share these suggestions. I’m not sure they’d listen, but it’s worth the effort. I wasn’t successful during in convincing them to put a vending machine of vodka choices in the student lounge, but perhaps I can convince them to teach students how to order raw meat. It’s the least I can do for the future lawyers of America. 

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Lisa Henderson-Newlin is a member of the law firm McAnany Van Cleave and Phillips. Contact Under Analysis by email at comments@levisongroup.com.

© 2013 Under Analysis L.L.C.

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