What They Don’t Teach In Law School | What I’ve Learned in 16 Years of Practice

In law school, they spent a large amount of time teaching us the law, a medium amount of time teaching us to apply the law, and a small amount of time teaching us how to find the law we did not know. Below are things I believe they don’t teach in law school, that are necessary to understand when practicing law.

What they failed to teach us was how to build a successful law practice.  They never once taught us the basics of how to wade through office politics or how to develop the interpersonal relationships necessary to succeed within the framework of a law office.

Many of the things I have learned on my own, much through trial and error, are not only helpful for new lawyers starting out in a competitive legal field, but they are also useful in any business setting where one must rise from the bottom to the top to succeed.  With this in mind I present you with the things I’ve learned in 16 years of law practice that they don’t teach in law school, in hopes that you might avoid some of the unnecessary mistakes and conflict I experienced.

  • 1) A happy paralegal is a covered butt.  This seems simple enough. but what does it really mean?  Every office has key people whom you rely on to keep you looking good.  A sincere thank you, birthdays and holidays remembered…the things you do for your friends whom you want nothing from go along way to keeping key people happy in their work environment.
  • 2) When the case turns out to be a dud, a reasonable client will appreciate his lawyer sitting down and telling him face-to-face that, in his honest opinion, he has no case.  As such, I have yet to meet a reasonable client.  Avoid telling your client he has no case.  Educate your client as to the facts, the risks, how the entire process will pan out when the case goes to court, what evidence is and is not allowed to be presented, what the cost will be and how that will likely affect the bottom line.  Give your client the facts and let him do the math.  If your client still cannot see the trees for the forest, it may be time to suggest they seek a second legal opinion.
  • 3) That attorney who goofed, who you have in the cross-hairs, who you can twist the knife in and blame it on someone else, will still be a part of the same small world in which you must build a career.  Decide early, like long before you are forced to, whether you want to be able to call upon professional courtesy when you are backed up against a deadline and need more time.  If you cut your opponents feet out from under him on something that really did not matter, expect him to take an eye-for-an-eye on the next case.  You will in your career run across many an attorney who has lost sight of the days when the legal profession was regarded as an honorable profession.  Whether you join them or not is a choice.
  • 4) “Deserve” is always relative. “Relatives” don’t always deserve. Accept it. It will never change.  Enough said.
  • 5) Sometimes living with the problem, is easier than being credited for bringing about the solution.  People tend to get in a rhythm. They learn the system no matter what its’ drawbacks are and they develop their own hierarchies of understanding.  When you change it, someone is getting toppled from their pedestal.  There will be resistance, complaints and blame no matter how good the idea may be.  Sometimes, requesting anonymity is a good idea.
  • 6) Ineffective management is worked around, not through.  the flip side of #5 is a lesson for managers too.  If some one comes to you, in person or by email or otherwise, about an issue with a coworker or a department policy and you address the issue by presenting it to the focus of the problem, do not expect to ever be told again about the problems in your office.  Employees will develop their own work-arounds, whether they are good for the company or not, if the alternative is to be labeled the complainer by their coworkers.
  • 7) “Salaried Employee” is the Latin phrase for “he who has no quitting time.”
  • 8) Pick your battles.  I once tried a case where the defense counsel and I had agreed to every single issue on the pretrial motions. (That has only happened once.) The Judge was shocked when he called us up to handle pretrial rulings and we said we had no issues to discuss.  The next time I was in his courtroom, he gave me the benefit of the doubt in every argument I made.  I believe he recognized that I am not the kind of person who argues every point “just to be disagreeable.” It is better to be seen as a reasonable person than a good advocate.
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Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 2005. He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017-2019, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give educational talks and media interviews regarding personal injury law issues..