What does it mean to “think like a lawyer?” For all the years I’ve worked in legal education (about 40) I admit I haven’t thought about the phrase much. I have cups from Lexis with the phrase embossed on them. But the phrase keeps coming home to me from time to time beyond promotional materials. I encountered it when I had some unfortunate experience with my home plumbing during the Christmas break. My kitchen sink backed up on Christmas morning. That led to a series of events that started with drain cleaner and ended with cracked pipes and water leaking into my basement. Ugh.
The clog was still intact on the Tuesday after Christmas when two plumbers arrived to remedy the situation. I had bailed the sink more than a few times between Christmas and then. We put a little water in the sink and it started to pool in the drain. One of the plumbers asked me what chemicals were in the water. I said there shouldn’t be in there by now. He replied that the boiling had to be caused by something. There was almost imperceptible bubbling in the drain water. I explained that early on in this adventure a friend of mine and I used drain cleaner at first. I said almost automatically that I needed to “disclose” that to him. We then had a short conversation about legal duty, though he wasn’t concerned about that. I continued that law school does that to people. I could not think of the condition of the sink without considering the legalities. I told him at this point it was hard not to because of the perspective legal training creates.
I remember talking to a student last semester. He had been working at a firm specializing in family relations, particularly those that are strained. He was only half way through the curriculum and started to view the relationships in his family through a legal perspective. I told him not to fight it. That’s what law school does. That’s thinking like a lawyer. It’s not that his relatives would be potential clients as much as legal training puts that overlay on life. It’s either sad or it means law school did what it was supposed to, or both. I admit, sometimes I watch Tom and Jerry cartoons and count up the civil causes of action both have against each other. Sad, I know.
Anyway, that’s it. You know you think like a lawyer when legal rules play a part, not necessarily the only part, of everyday perspective. In my plumber’s situation, it’s duty to warn or make safe. Since I couldn’t make the chemicals in the water safe, I had to warn. I don’t want a lawsuit after all.