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How Law Students Become Lawyers

Do you remember the moment that you realized that the real power of law doesn't often come glamorously packaged as  a rousing argument  to the jury or a heartfelt plea for justice, but rather in the somewhat mundane, nuts and bolts form of a dull procedural argument, or an overlooked scrap of evidence?  That's really the moment that you become a lawyer, because you begin to view the law as a tool as well as an abstract concept. 

Law student Megan Suzann Brown describes her own realization in this terrific blog post, Stocking my legal toolbox at Ms. JD, recounting her experience at a law school clinic that represented local college and graduate students receiving public assistance.  Though Brown was clearly moved by the plight of many of these women, she learned that to advocate effectively for them, she needed to use the law as a chisel to carve out an argument instead of trying to sell a flashy image of justice that wouldn't be as effective.  She writes:

As legal interns, we looked for holes in the administrative process and prayed for the welfare machine (the Agency) to have made mistakes. We hoped the Agency sent the letter to the wrong address. We hoped the Agency alleged a missed appointment on the wrong date. We hoped the Agency were late sending us information we requested. We relied on these procedural arguments so often because arguing that poor women deserve better simply doesn’t fly when you’re dealing with a cold, heartless machine.

Learning to use the law effectively is one of the best -- and worst -- skills that law school teaches.  The best, because as Brown shows, the power of the law often works wonders when you've got the stronger legal argument.  And the worst, because there's always a danger that once you realize the power of law as tool, it's often so intoxicating that you forget the reason behind it -- the clients.  Though she's still a law student, Brown seems to have achieved the right balance, one that all of us lawyers could stand to learn from.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 3, 2007 at 07:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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