12 November 2012

Think Like A Lawyer

by Chrissy Giuliano, 3L Contributor

Think like a lawyer: The one thing every professor first year said we would learn. When I first heard this phrase during orientation, I had no idea what it meant. As my first year dragged on, I developed a jaded view of the phrase, believing that it had no real meaning. I thought professors lorded the phrase over us as a way to make the law seem mysterious or because their law professors lorded it over them. So, what does “think like a lawyer” actually mean?
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            After two and half years of law school, I am happy to say that I have shaken off my jaded view and found meaning in thinking like a lawyer. Obvious as it may be, the phrase refers to a thought process we continuously develop over time. It enables us to identify more than one side to an issue. There is no denying that law school changes you as a person. Aside from becoming disturbingly excited over hornbooks and study supplements, we start to understand just how different law school is from other academic endeavors as we question what were once clear-cut matters. Sometimes it is hard to shut off this thought process, especially when with friends outside of law school who do not care what the word “reasonable” means. To them, that’s why dictionaries exist.
In my quest to figure out what it means to “think like a lawyer,” I turned to Duquesne Law’s own professors for insight. 
“‘A lawyer is trained for two things and two things only. To clarify - that's one. And to confuse - that's the other. He does whichever is to his client's advantage,’” said Jacob Rooksby, assistant professor of intellectual property, quoting the fictional presidential candidate, Hal Philip Walker, in Robert Altman's 1975 classic Nashville. While Professor Rooksby acknowledged the cynicism, he added, “The lawyer's craft always involves interweaving critical reasoning with strategic thought.” 
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Associate Dean Jane Campbell Moriarty believes thinking like a lawyer is “both a method and a practice.” This is exercised “when we deconstruct a problem, an idea, a document or an argument to tease out its strengths, weaknesses, and potential inconsistencies.”
With attention to detail and persistence of thought, “really good lawyers . . . maintain an open mind and a belief that they are life-long learners,” Dean Moriarty said.   
Thinking like a lawyer has no single meaning. As we continue in our education and future careers as lawyers, we must have our own personal sense of what it means. I challenge everyone to graduate from law school with that sense. If we do, we will take something with us from first year that is more valuable than recounting the facts from Palsgraff. And in the spirit of Dean Moriarty’s thoughts, may you never stop learning how to think like a lawyer.

Chrissy Giuliano is a third-year law student at Duquesne and the editor-in-chief of Duquesne Law Review.