THE VALUE OF THINKING LIKE A LAWYER

March 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

In law school we were taught not so much the law as how to think like lawyers.  That is, we were taught to think analytically, to break complex issues into comprehensible components, and to bring creative solutions to bear using the framework of the law.

Michelle Harner of the University of Maryland School of Law has written a remarkable paper entitled, The Value of “Thinking Like a Lawyer,” which you can download here as a .pdf file.  The abstract of the paper summarizes it succinctly:

The legal profession was hit particularly hard by the recent recession. Law firms laid off lawyers in record numbers, and law school graduates found few if any employment opportunities. Clients also started rethinking the terms of the lawyer-client relationship, at least in the larger law firm context. Some commentators suggest that these changes are indicative of things to come; that the legal profession is undergoing a long-overdue paradigm shift that will permanently change the nature of the legal profession. This Essay examines these developments through the lens of Larry Ribstein’s The Death of Big Law and Richard Susskind’s The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services. It compares and contrasts Ribstein’s and Susskind’s analyses of the profession and assesses potential lessons for lawyers, clients, and legal educators. This Essay concludes by encouraging professionals to remain open to changes that improve efficiency and client service. It also stresses the value of preserving and promoting the hallmark of being a lawyer – that is, thinking like a lawyer.

Professor Harner begins by accepting some of the premises offered by Ribstein and Susskind: that forces are at work changing the legal profession; that the legal profession is becoming commoditized and generic; and that survival as a lawyer, and indeed, survival of the legal profession, will demand evolution in the way lawyers offer and market services.

Where she ends up is with the idea that legal thinking has a marketable value, and that lawyers should evaluate the services they offer in terms of the value that their legal thinking can add, as opposed to simply doing all the traditional tasks that lawyers have assumed and which do not require legal thinking, many of which nowadays are being taken over by non-lawyers.

Her challenge is for lawyers and the legal profession to re-examine our ways of looking at the ethical framework in which we operate to determine whether it really does promote the best interest of clients and the profession.

I encourage you to read professor Harner’s paper, and to begin to think about the future of your profession.

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