The following general explanation of the skills and talents needed to be a good lawyer comes from a brochure entitled “Thinking about Law School?” published by the University of Nebraska Law School.
Persons thinking about law school frequently ask what subjects they should take or what majors they should select in preparation for law school. In most circumstances you must have an undergraduate degree to be admitted to law school. However, law schools do not require any particular course of study or major as a prerequisite for admission. Whatever you pursue as an undergraduate, from liberal arts to business, from engineering to social science, from chemistry to physical education, from education to journalism, you will be eligible for law school. This means that it is never too late to choose law as a career. One of this country's greatest legal minds, Roscoe Pound, earned an advanced degree in Botany from the University of Nebraska before he decided to enter the law, and he subsequently became Dean of the University of Nebraska College of Law and then Dean of the Harvard Law School! Nonetheless, there are things you can do to prepare yourself, not only for law school, but for the legal profession.
Three Basic Skills of a Lawyer
1. The Comprehension and Use of Language
Language is the lawyer's working tool. Lawyers spend their time drafting legal instruments such as contracts or statutes, engaging in oral and written arguments, and speaking to and on behalf of their clients. The lawyer, above all other things, must be able to communicate in a clear and concise manner. In law school, and as a lawyer, you will need to speak and write logically and persuasively.
If you are thinking about law school, you need to develop your ability to write. You must be able to write clearly and correctly. You must be able to write to explain, to inform, or to persuade. You must also learn to write quickly. Law school and legal practice will require you to write often and under rigid deadlines. You should take every opportunity to work on your writing skills.
Oral communication is also an important skill of a lawyer. The law student and the lawyer must be able to present their views and those of their client clearly, forcefully, and persuasively. You must learn to speak using proper English. All of us are sometimes lazy when we speak, and we often avoid complete sentences or use slang terms. The lawyer, however, will speak in formal settings where proper English is important for effective communication. This does not mean your speech has to be stuffy or boring. But you want your law professor or the jury to concentrate on what you say and not be thinking about your poor grammar or slang expressions.
You must also get over the fear of public speaking or of expressing and defending your views in public. All of us get nervous before a speech, but the more we speak in public the easier it becomes. And the lawyer is often called upon to speak in public. Do not avoid occasions to speak before an audience; view them as opportunities for improving your oral skills.
2. Understanding human institutions and human nature
Lawyers do not work in isolation. The law regulates human activity and shapes human institutions. It can be a force for accomplishing much good, but it can also be a force for oppression. The lawyer must have a keen sense of human values and an understanding of human nature. The lawyer serves clients who are often caught up in difficult or emotional circumstances, and must often respond with compassion, sensitivity, and understanding. The lawyer is also often called upon to predict how individuals will respond to certain circumstances. Thus the lawyer must be prepared by both education and experience to understand how and why persons behave the way they do.
3. Creative and Analytical Thinking
Problem solving is an important part of a lawyer's work, and the good lawyer is one who can do more than just advise the client whether a particular course of action is legal or illegal. The lawyer is often called upon to help accomplish the client's objectives within the limits of the law. This requires the skills of research, fact gathering, deductive and inductive reasoning, and critical analysis. You must also be able to distance yourself from the heat of an argument in order to bring reason to a dispute.
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