People generally tend to assume that the fact that someone went to law school automatically means they would go into legal practice. But that assumption is somewhat remote from reality.
Granted, not everyone who studies law has the intention of practicing, some choose to become lawyers in fulfillment of their parents harrying pleas and after bagging the degree decided to slink away from the lure of law practice. For the others, who might be entrepreneurs at heart, they opt to study law so they can be their own legal advisers in the day to day running of their businesses without the unnecessary expense of enlisting the professional services of a lawyer.
However, there are those who might have dreamt of becoming lawyers but upon graduation from law school come to the sudden realization that they possess certain traits that are incongruous with the adversarial nature of law practice – traits which only increase their odds of succeeding in law practice (let’s just say they haven’t got what it takes to succeed).
It is chiefly the latter category this article is about. Those law students whom you know from interaction will unlikely defend or prosecute a case in any court even after getting licensed to practice. Are you wondering whether you are in this category? Let’s not keep you in anymore suspense. There are metrics for knowing whether you would end up practicing law but they are mainly presumptions which do not foreclose the miracle of an otherwise unlikely law student eventually turning out to practice law. So here are the 5 types of law student who might not end up practicing law.
(1) There are those who are conflict-averse
Law students in this category generally shy away from anything bearing a stamp of antagonism. They hate to offend anyone and do love sitting on the fence whenever a sensitive topic is afoot in class. In class, Law students who are conflict-averse are the ones usually in the running for Mr. or Miss Nice. They are more inclined to a “yes” response than a “no”. They can’t be the ones who hurt anyone’s feelings and above all hate disagreements. For example, an indolent course mate might come to them with a request to borrow their lecture notes a day or two before the exams and rather than object, their fear of conflict will often lead them to oblige to this unreasonable request. More so, they are die-hard adherents of turning-the-other-cheek and would rather suffer wrong than seek redress.
No lawyer who possesses any of these traits will survive a day in the world of courtroom litigation. They might be better of pursuing alternative non-legal careers like, say, mediation than going into law practice. By its very nature, law practice is adversarial and confrontational. You can’t go into its arena without being ready for a fight. Once you are in this arena of conflict, a lawyer is better of throwing off legal blows than turning-the-other-cheek. You have to be equally prepared to give tit-for-tat and where possible be willing to play hard ball. And it’s for this same reason a conflict averse law student will likely chicken out of this war zone. A lawyer who is conflict-averse will likely be inclined to reach settlement even when this is unfavorable to his client for fear of slugging it out in court.
(2) Those who can’t withstand pressure
As a lawyer in practice, you will have to take pleasure in working with a lot of pressure. In fact it has to become your middle name. There is no getting away from this fact and this is one thing some law students may not have the stomach for. Pressure is inherent in the adversarial nature of law practice where lawyers face grilling from both courts and clients. A lawyer must know how to maintain his calm under the heat of litigation and at the top of that, there are deadlines placed on client expectations and in the filing and hearing of motions in court. Lawyers have to develop a thick skin for pressure while being able to think on their feet at the same time. Equally lawyers are to possess the adaptability to work on short notice.
However the ability to withstand and work under pressure isn’t something that is evenly distributed among the law student population. Some law students tend to hit the panic button when having to work under pressure. It’s fairly easy to see why they might turn their backs on practicing law upon graduation from law school.
(3) There are those who hate rules.
And what is that quote again about disobeying rules? Oh I remember now! “Rules are meant to be broken”. Among the law student population there are those who revel in breaking rules. Aren’t really big on obeying the law schools honor code. They violate their law faculty’s dress codes, always attend class late, and usually don’t do their assignments. They are more than likely to violate the 7 don’ts of being a law student
In law practice, this attitude of rules-are-meant-to-be-broken would usually get a lawyer in trouble with the bar and possibly lead to their disbarment. Everything a lawyer does in law practice must be done by the book not by their own whims and caprices. They have to be punctual in court, observe the proper courtroom etiquette at all times. It’s a given then that any law student who has no love for keeping rules would unlikely take to practicing law.
(4) There are those who are too introverted and shy.
Lawyers are people’s persons and that is exactly why a lawyer must love interacting with people in general. How would a shy lawyer get clients? I can’t think of a way. More than that, lawyers are basically trained to possess good advocacy skills to enable them advocate for the rights of others whether in court or at the “public square”. When you are a practicing lawyer, you’ll have to feel okay being in the spot light, standing before an audience and canvassing arguments. So if you are a shy law student hoping to go into law practice, then your goose is cooked already.
How exactly would a shy lawyer present an argument in open court before a mean-looking judge? Tell you what? You’d wish the ground would open up and swallow you! How can you tell if you are a shy law student? You might not usually ask or answer questions in class, you tend to shy away from participating in the moot and muck competitions and generally take your sitting position at the rear-end of your class to escape the lecturer’s probing gaze. You probably sit at the back to avoid being starred at when summoned by the professor to answer a question. Speak of keeping a low profile!
(5) There are those who hate reading or research
This is the worst of traits to be expected of a practicing lawyer. It is more like a doctor who hates the sight of blood. It is almost cut and dried that a law student who hates reading or research will unlikely end up practicing law. This only means one thing – you will want to save yourself the embarrassment of not being learned enough to win cases by staying away from law practice. The legal profession happens to be one of the profession where you never really retire from reading. Given the pace of change in the field, lawyers have to conduct research in minute particulars to be able to stay abreast of emerging developments. Society is dynamic and the law has to undergo continuous reform if it is not to be out of tune. Even judges have been known to alter the current of precedent by a side wind. This makes it all the more pressing for lawyers to bury themselves in reading and research to stay updated on their knowledge. This is the cause of the dark side of law practice and perhaps why some lawyers want nothing to do with practicing law.
Are you one of those law students who hates reading in toto? Then it is highly unlikely you would practice law. Now how do you know you belong to this category? You probably hate using the law faculty library, prefer using summarized cases on the internet to briefing your cases in the law library. It’s also possible you make up authorities and then cite them in the exams without providing relevant citations (it is more like in the case of “Didn’t Research v. Too Lazy” decided by me). Hilarious, right?
May be one day you might submit your brief of argument to a judge with concocted legal authorities. Imagine your embarrassment when the judge is let in on your little secret and decides to call you out in open court.
If having read this you do however come to the realization that you actually have one of these traits but still desire to practice law upon graduation from law school then now is as good a time as any to start working on these weaknesses. But it’s going to take a lot effort and time to turn yourself around. Still, don’t give up on your dream yet, you just might make it.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.