I have my law degree. As the sixth person in my family to complete law school, you could say it ran in the family. Law school taught me a lot about the law. Oddly enough, it also taught me I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
Along with this important lesson, it also taught me a great deal about being a leader. For those of you that haven’t been to law school but also for those who have, here are ten lessons I learned about leadership in law school:
- Commas Matter. Legal writing is not real writing. Legal cases can turn on where a comma is placed in a document. For those that want to learn more about what legal writing requires, check out this resource at The Georgetown University Law Center.
- Stop Waffling. Leaders need to be assertive. My first legal brief came back with lots of comments, all in red. In the margins my professor had written, “Not maybe, may be or could be. Is it or isn’t it?”
- Grin and bear it. Ridicule won’t kill you. Until I went to law school, I hadn’t experienced the wry wit of law professors. Afterward, I was an expert at handling “constructive” criticism, like “Mrs. Nelson, just where did you get that creative rendition of this case? Certainly not from anything in the case itself…” Get over it or get out. You can get called on (or out) every day.
- Not everything makes sense. If you don’t believe me, just consider the Rule against perpetuities.
- A person can live without sleep for three years. I’m living proof.
- Titles matter. People treat me differently when they find out that I’m a lawyer. Some are nicer to me when I tell them I don’t practice law. Sometimes my calls get returned faster if the person I’m calling knows I’m a lawyer. Some return faster if they know I’m a social worker. If they know that I’m both, some won’t return the call at all!
- All issues can be stated in one sentence.
- Failure won’t kill you. Everyone knows the famous law school speech about looking at the person on your left because they won’t be there in six weeks or some other nonsense. Failure is always a possibility, of course, but it won’t kill you. Lots of people flunked out but they all lived.
- Know both sides. You always have to argue both sides in law school. We did it with the Laetrile debate. It’s an important lesson that teaches you there are good points on both sides.
- Humor helps learning. No one goes to law school to learn interpersonal skills. However, any law student will agree that the best professors were funny.
I learned other important things about myself, too. I can read anything—and understand most things at least a little. I don’t do windows or divorces. Most importantly, I can survive anything.
Would I do it again? That’s a tough question. While the lessons I learned were priceless, there was a price paid for going to law school. I’m not proud of the price my son paid for my absence or my marriage for my lack of energy or even interest to devote to it. I’ve wondered if in my case whether an MBA might have been a better choice. However, I’m proud of my law degree and the lessons I learned while earning it.
Bottom line: I did it and I’m glad I did it but I wouldn’t do it again.
And there you have it–in one sentence, as taught.