Anyone who’s attended law school will be familiar with the oft-quoted adage, “Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer.” Each of my former professors, in turn, drilled the aforementioned quote into my addled brain in the early weeks of the grueling lawyer training process.
Some drove the point home more poignantly than others. I remember, for instance, that my Contracts instructor—we’ll call him Professor J—was particularly adept at the Socratic Method. If you’ve ever seen the film or television show, The Paper Chase—or read the famous book of the same title by attorney, professor and lecturer John Jay Osborn, Jr.—you’re undoubtedly familiar with the method to which I refer. Who can forget the poor, timid first-year law students who endured the doubled-edged privilege of subjecting themselves to the relentless badgering of the formidable, ominous Professor Kingsfield? Strangely enough, the character fascinated me as a child. The film literally drew me into the field.
Sitting on the “hot seat” in real life proved far less appealing. When Professor J pulled my card (yes, there were large, white index cards) for the first time just weeks into my foray as a shy, uninitiated “1L”—and I was asked to brief the case—I quaked. Thankfully, I didn’t stutter. I IRAC’d the case, and he quickly moved on to someone else. Whew! What do I mean by the term “IRAC”? “IRAC” is an acronym that stands for the words issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion. In other words, I had to state the legal problem at issue in the case, identify the rule of law (i.e., the statute or case law) that applied to it, analyze the facts and the legal problem in light of the rule of law, and then draw and present a conclusion.
As the Lord would have it, Professor J never pulled my card or called upon me again. Some weren’t quite so fortunate. Our fearless leader called upon at least one poor gentleman anywhere from five to seven times over the course of that first school year. Somehow, his card always seemed to magically appear at the top of the deck once the cards had been shuffled. And—you’ll never believe this—the guy was never prepared to IRAC the case once. Impossible, you say? I wouldn’t have believed it either if the mortifying tragedy hadn’t unfolded before my eyes in retina-searing color. On the first occasion, the professor requested that Cole (we’ll call him) brief a particular case assigned the day before. Cole froze and stared. I doubt that classroom has ever been as quiet before or since that day.
Professor J paused, attempted to coax Cole into speaking by reciting a fact or two from the case, and then asked the inevitable question. “Mr. ____, have you read the assignment?” Pause, pause, pause. “No. I haven’t,” Cole said. I have absolutely no doubt that every other student in the classroom was thinking the same thing. Should I breathe now? Obviously, it was all downhill from there. Professor J asked Cole to grab his things and to excuse himself from the room. You know what was particularly embarrassing? It was law school, so we carried an awful lot of stuff to class. Cole spent an interminable period packing everything away. Then, he had to maneuver his way past a lengthy line of students plastered to the amphitheater style seating utilized in the room.
You would have thought that Cole would have learned his lesson after that humiliating encounter. Yeah—not so much. Time and time again, he showed up for class unprepared to brief the case. I can probably guess what you’re thinking. Whatever became of Cole? Wonder of wonders, Cole actually did very well in law school. He’s an attorney. It just goes to show that things are not always what they appear. That said, I’m still trying to figure out the answer to the title query. I think like a lawyer, you see. It just never stops.