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Shrinks will tell you that when you step back from something or someone you disconnect and become disinvested in that situation. Good for you don't look back and the heck with your friends. I have known plenty of folks who have successfully reinvented themselves.

Rock on.

David Giacalone

Thanks for writing a great piece, Scheherazade. "Thinking like a lawyer" is often an insult, I believe, because lawyers are frequently paid to look first at the result they want, and they then use their mental and linguistic skills to bend the law, procedures or facts in order to produce that result. Of course, it's also an insult, because lawyer verbal nit-picking done outside the provision of legal services is annoying and usually not helpful.

Here are two articles that take interesting perspectives on the topic: Thinking Like A Lawyer: Second Thoughts [47 Mercer L. Rev. 511], by Prof. James R. Elkins; and Uneasy Burden: What it Really Means to Learn to Think like a Lawyer [47 Mercer L. Rev. 543], by Prof. Peter R. Teachout (father of the Dean Campaign's web goddess, Zephyr Teachout).

Carolyn Elefant

Like David, I enjoyed your post - and David, I enjoyed the articles you cited. But I disagree with your premise that the law undervalues the attributes in yourself that you prize. Says who? You can practice law on your own terms?

Obviously, you have the "thinking like a lawyer skills" to succeed as a lawyer. But better, you have attributes which you can make relevant. After all, what do you think it is that breaks the tie between the two otherwise compelling sides in Bessie and Wilbur's feud? Could be passion for one's side, could be the ability to sit the two down and mediate between them, could be having the patience to ferret out a seemingly insignificant detail that makes all the difference. Thinking like a lawyer gets on so far; it's the non "thinking like a lawyer qualities," that certain "je ne sais quois" that move the law. I still believe that, truly, after sixteen years of practice.

I'm not trying to convince you one way or another as to whether you should leave the law or stay. I just want to point out that you have far, far more control over how you practice law than you think. If I'd had told my professors or classmate in law school that I intended to work part time for seven years and still keep it alive and grow my opportunities - or that I would conduct conference calls with big firm lawyers while nursing a baby or start a weblog that people actually read - I would have been laughed out of the room. I would have laughed myself out of the room. Yet here I am.

The point is that if you decide that leaving the law is right for you, then go to it - I'd have the uptmost respect for the courage of that choice. But just be sure that if you leave, it's because it's exactly what you want and not because you've been lead by others to believe that you can't have what you want in the law.

What did this post tell me? Well...it was a great piece, and well-written. But, the most revealing thing about it was that it was so long I read further down than usual and saw the "One year bible" blog...Bible blog? Blah! Major disappointment.


Great post. Articulates the point wonderfully.


To the person who didn't like the bible blog -- you may not know that the list of "Recently Updated Weblogs" is a randomly generated list of Typepad weblogs that changes dynamically, and is not chosen by me. I keep it there because by happy accident sometimes it leads me or others to interesting weblogs, and some of those turn out to be worthwhile. But some may not. So to the extent you imagine that I exert any editorial control over that list, it's a misconception. The only editorial choice that list represents is my belief in serendipity.

SF Librarian

Wow -- such an eloquent post. I also value the training that I received in law school and during my years of practice. But when I went to work in my little lawyer duds every day, I always felt like I had to conceal certain portions of who I was to really get ahead. Leaving was a hard decision, but it allowed me to find a career (law librarianship) that engages all of me. Don't settle for anything less!

Bob J

First of all great post. Second question to address: at what point do you know what kind of lawyer you want to be? I'm a 2L and I have no clue. Many 2Ls have no clue. Help?


I thought your post was great and interesting, but awfully different from my experience practicing law. It has never occurred to me that thinking like a lawyer means shutting off feeling, intuition or empathy. Those attributes are crucial to client counseling, mediation/negotiation, or advocating a position whether before a judge or a jury.

Litigators for example may not have a reputation for sensitivity but in fact the most effective litigator is one who is able to tell a story in human terms that resonates on an emotional level as to WHY a legal principle should favor his or her client. I can't seem to think of a good example right now, but the creative/intuitibe/feeling side of the lawyer's brain is what gives life and meaning to the legal principles he uses;
these ways of thinking complement each other. After all, most legal principles are derived from real life situations and are intended to reach the most fair result for real people.


the phrase 'think like a lawyer' and your post made me think of that song 'walk like an egyptian' by the bangles...

'think like a lawyer' indicates a certain compression of dimension, a flattening... that 'legal thinking' is a subset of 'thinking'

Yeoman Lawyer

Excellent piece.

In a small way, I've come to think that thinking like a lawyer, or at least thinking like a litigator, is a bit like being a member of the Prussian General Staff. An attribute of our thinking is that, as long as we stay within certain vaguely defined boundaries, we're not to bother with the right and wrong of things. So, to our way of thinking, we can be perfectly comfortable representing a person whose is guilty of a great moral wrong, and prevailing in Court, as long as we complied with the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Evidence, and the corners of the law. Conversely, if we obtain money for a person we know to be not worthy, we don't worry about that either, as long as we are within the rules.

It's a bit of an odd way of looking at things, which is why I make the Prussian General Staff analogy. We feel free to wage war for an evil cause, as long as we obey the rules. We have our orders, so we do our job. We try to win, or in a Clauswitzian fashion, we strive for the best deal we can get. The right and wrong of it, in the larger sense, are not our concerns.

I'm afraid that I've grown so used to thinking that way there are whole cateogories of things that I now view that way, and it's really hard for me to get a sense of moral outrage about anything.


Great post, but I agree with some of your commentators that you don't have to lose what makes you human (messy and sensitive and intuitive and warm and imaginative and empathetic and joyful and easily moved by beauty) in order to think like a lawyer.

I believe that you think like a lawyer to be able to give your client advice which they can rely upon. But then you use those other qualities to maintain the client relationship, or argue your clients case, or mediate an outcome. This, in my view, is one of the problems with law school - you don't deal with people, you deal with problems. And the practice of law inevitably involves dealing with people.

For example, I love family law and criminal law in theory, but hated the practice because of the human face of those areas of law. I couldn't deal with the emotional issues, so now I work in an area which is not particularly emotional. I believe in what I do, I believe in my client and I believe that I'm doing some good. And that's what makes my work worthwhile.

By the way, I also posted about this on my blog.



I appreciate your experience sharing of being a lawyer who possesses powerful legal thinking. However, there is one point on which I do not agreei with you.I don't think you can only choose only one road: To be a disinterested person with powerful legal thinking or a passionate person. To ability to separate the two kinds in the life might belong to the field of art. And each of us shall seek to master it.

Sangita Ashok

My father was a solicitor, attorney-at-law who practised in SriLanka. He was by far the most compassionate, kind and humane lawyer I ever have had the opportunity to meet. He was precise, analytical, logical and yet one of the finest human beings who used his sense of fairness and balance to achieve the best outcomes. In him I saw the middle path that one must tread - to use love and passion with detachment and fairness, the makings of a fine lawyer.


Reading your article raised many concerns I have about continuing my legal studies. Being extremely emotional and sensitive I find it difficult to socialise with many of my peers, who have already acquired their "thinking like a lawyer" skills. I began my programme thinking it was possible to marry the two. Now,however, I'm not so sure, emotions do seem to be a weakness. Whatever you decide, goodluck, you are extremely brave.

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i like this part of the post:"I treasure the disciplined precision of thought I got from law school. It is a habit of mind that I value as a gift; I am smarter and more capable because of it. I like, too, the confidence I have in my own ability to navigate statutes and to parse legal language. I value my understanding of the legal system -- a grand, flawed, largely noble process of dispute resolution." is verygood

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There is one point on which I do not agreei with you.

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