5 things they didn’t teach you at law school

5 things they didn’t teach you at law school

Whether it was so long ago that you can’t remember it or you have just escaped, the things that embryonic lawyers learn at law school are invaluable as one sallies forth into a career in the law… at least, that’s the theory.

In reality, and without passing comment on the curricula of these fine institutions, there is plenty that you do not learn while you are there which might have come in handy.  So, as a (hopefully) fun and in no way useful distraction from your busy day, here is a brief guide to some of those things – nothing like being smart after the event!

1. Holidays = punishment… for everyone

You will get days off – even the stingiest of employers will give you a holiday entitlement. However, if you happen to be so brazen as to actually use your leave, do not expect to escape without the standard punishment: a mad dash and/or late nights to close everything off before you go, followed by an interminable slog up Email Mountain (and more late nights) when you return. This is all designed to ensure your relaxed attitude and frame of mind fades before the tan does.

The easy solution to the above is to not take holiday. The only challenge here is that your colleagues are unlikely to be quite so generous (or brainwashed), leaving you with the last minute instruction/handover/hospital pass that doesn’t even scratch the surface. The sooner you accept that holidays go hand-in-hand with punishment for everyone, the more Zen you’ll feel. Which helps replace the Zen you’re supposed to get from a nice break!

2. What do I do again?

There are an awful lot of lawyers out there, doing an awful lot of jobs. Therefore it is just the law of averages that a decent amount will be nothing like you (I know you’re the hard-working, intelligent, pragmatic, commercially aware, funny, good looking ones – why else would you be reading this blog?). Some will be smarter, some will be dumber, some will need their ego massaged, some need to talk (and talk…), and some will refuse to agree to anything.

Here’s your job: work out which is which, and then find a strategy for dealing with each of them. That’s right – all those years of training to be a lawyer and you get to be a psychologist!

3. Common Sense 101

Here’s a tip they didn’t tell you at law school – sure, you need to be smart and know the law (at least a bit) but if you want to get on, you need to realise that sometimes applying a decent bit of standard logic will actually solve the problem. As scary as it sounds (after years of study and training), the law is not always the answer. There may be a simple solution that has nothing to do with law but which everyone has missed – do not be afraid to call it out, you will be surprised at how often you hear “Oh… I hadn’t thought of that!”.

4. There is always a broader context

Lawyers often get told just enough (or sometimes not even enough) to answer the question that they’re being asked. However, once you escape the world of academia, it’s rare that someone will ask you a question just for the sheer fun of it.  So while, technically, you are right that you can terminate that contract, have you thought about where you’re going to find a replacement supplier from and how long it will take them to get going? Months, you say? Not sure that 30 day termination right looks so great now, does it…

There is (nearly) always a reason you get asked to give advice, and behind that reason is the bigger picture that your answer should fit within. Tailor your advice around that picture and you’re on to a winner. Fail to do that and you might as well just stay in the classroom answering essay questions.

5. STOP: great career ahead

You’ve been given training that can be invaluable, even if you decide against a career as a lawyer. The ability to think analytically, to write logically and clearly, and to speak confidently – they are all baked in to the law school learning process, albeit dressed up in modules about litigation, conveyancing and solicitors’ accounts.

I went out recently with a group of close friends who I trained with – we all started on the same day at the same firm. More than a decade on, over half of that group are not in private practice any more, and of these a good proportion are out of the law altogether. They are, however, all doing well in their chosen fields and all agreed that the skills learned have played far more of a part in our career than the pure subjects we were taught.

Perhaps law school wasn’t that bad after all…

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About the author:

Legal Director and Senior Counsel

Exec Sponsor, Rule of Law and CSR

James works for LexisNexis, based in their London office, as Legal Director and Senior Counsel.  In line with a personal passion for access to justice, James leads LexisNexis’s work in the UK on advancing the Rule of Law, with a focus on supporting digitisation in the free legal advice community.  He also heads up the UK CSR programme, encouraging employee volunteering and giving, making a positive impact on society and the communities around us.

A lawyer with experience both in private practice and in-house, James joined LN in 2012 as its UK General Counsel and was promoted to its board 2 years later.  He also led the legal function for LexisNexis South Africa and for regulatory media organisation MLex after its acquisition in 2015

In 2017, he moved into a mainstream business role to gain non-legal experience, and worked as the Director of Customer Success and Engagement.  Leading a group of c.40 people at the front-line of the business, his team ensured that existing customers get the most value from our products and future customers can make informed and objective decisions when moving to services and tools within our product portfolio.

James returned to his current legal role at the start of 2021.

Away from the office, James is a Trustee for the London Legal Support Trust, an Officer of the International Bar Association, and an FA Level 1 Football Coach.