Lawyering: Or, How to Succeed By Really Trying

What is the most important course that you will take in your 1L year? If you’re at New York University School of Law, the first word that should escape your lips is “Lawyering.” From that first class during orientation where you debate whether a bicycle qualifies as a vehicle in a park to that last course where you persuade a judge that your client should win, Lawyering teaches you invaluable skills in legal research, writing, counseling, and negotiation that should impress your summer employers.

Before we go any further in extolling the virtues of Lawyering, let me address the elephant in the room: its pass-fail status.

The only elephants here are cute ones like these. (Credit: Silvia Chow, silviachow.wordpress.com)

In other words, unlike your other three classes, Lawyering is not graded, and at the end of the year it does nothing to change your GPA. But I ask you to look at the pass-fail status not as a reason to give it intentionally less attention throughout the year, but rather as a liberating opportunity to experiment as much as you want in terms of finding your own style and voice as a legal writer.

This class will be one of the few times that you can make mistakes without any real consequences for your career or employer. You have the individualized attention of the enthusiastic faculty always at your disposal and specifically focused on giving you ways to improve.

Now, on to why Lawyering will help you hit the ground running for your summer jobs.

Lawyering reminds you to think constantly about what the client wants, not what you want.

As one of my professors is fond of saying, one of the greatest challenges of being an effective advocate is seeking a solution that in the long term will serve your client well.

Lawyering teaches us that “winning” in your mind does not necessarily mean a win for your client. In the employment discrimination simulation, for example, we learned that we could not advocate for certain solutions because that would ruin certain relationships that the client wanted to preserve in the long run. We learned that we must make certain strategic decisions to do or not to do something, even if we personally disagreed with the course of action.

At your job, your supervisors will likely appreciate your ability to take into account the big picture while working on your discrete task at hand. They will appreciate the fact that you can give answers that are actually doable for the client, instead of plans that are merely intellectually interesting or seem to be the “strongest” response.

Lawyering teaches you how to craft a solid legal memorandum.

The first week at your firm or public interest organization might very well go like this: “Welcome. Please sit down. And I would like a memo about the law of X, because our client wants to do Y or Z and wants to know if that’s going to be a problem.” Or: “Hello. Pleased to meet you. Our opponent has argued A, but we would like to argue B. Will that work?”

How will you state the question presented? Will you start with the rule statement or the facts of the client’s situation?

But because you will have taken Lawyering and drafted several memos, you will have a plan as to how to tackle your research (i.e., starting in the correct jurisdiction, unless none is specified) or crafting your argument (i.e., knowing which material facts to draw out from the cases).

By grappling with a variety of different cases throughout the semester—employment discrimination, patent licensing, preliminary injunction in DNA collection—you learn the process of taking a massive amount of information and distilling it into a useful work product for your audience. You will help add value to an organization by having a solid toolkit under your belt from practicing in your Lawyering class.

Lawyering teaches you the art of gathering and developing facts from your clients.

Typically, clients are busy and don’t have a lot of time to talk to you. Other times they might have a faulty memory or are too unfamiliar with the legal issues to give the answers that you would find relevant. Those who are more cynical might even say that clients will try to hide the ball in the hopes that they will never be forced to grapple with a difficult and/or embarrassing situation.

At my 1L job, a large part of my summer was spent interviewing people who had purchased the product in a consumer protection case. While I knew what legal theory we were trying to prove, the people on the phone often had no idea why certain transactions were more important than others. I found in my conversations that tweaking a few phrases in my questions and circling back at the right time made the difference between hearing an uninteresting answer and a compelling story.

In Lawyering, you will spend a considerable amount of time learning how to develop and use facts. In the counseling exercise, you are working “in role” with a “client” (played by a fun Lawyering teaching assistant like me!) to elicit a narrative that would strengthen your client’s case. As a junior attorney, you may not be asked to speak with the client directly, but at least you can help the more senior attorneys craft questions that can get inside the client’s mind as thoroughly as possible. Impress your bosses by coming up with creative but reasonable ways to obtain information.

This entry was written by and posted on September 05, 2013.
The entry was filed under these categories: Classes, Tips and Advice, Topics of Law
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