Monday, August 20, 2012

Can't You Just Look It Up?

Certain professions lend themselves to being the go-to person for answers at family gatherings.  CPAs are likely questioned about whether something was a legitimate tax write off.  Doctors are quizzed about a mysterious pain somewhere on a party goers body.  And lawyers are asked about the law.  Sadly our answers usually result in irritation rather than satisfaction.  For example:

Party Goer:  Hey Melinda, you're a lawyer, right?

Melinda:  Yes....I focus on wills, powers of attorney, probate....basically illness, death and taxes.

Party Goer:  Okay....I got a question for you.  I work with this guy who is going through a divorce in Florida.  And his employer instituted a new "no leave" policy because of the recession.  And this guy hurts his back driving to a seminar in Texas, and now he can't work.  The employer should have to pay him, right?

Melinda: Well, it depends.

Party Goer:  What do you mean.  Go look it up in a book -- isn't that what law school taught you?

Melinda:  Actually no, it taught me how to think like a lawyer.  As long as the courts and legislators are open for business, the law is in constant flux.  As I launch into a discussion about the legal process and why I can't answer this "simple" question, the party goer's eye glaze over.

Law school takes a normal human being and transforms him or her into an attorney.  The best description I've heard of it, is it it like being on Jeopardy while going through Boot Camp.  We read books, but not to memorize laws.  We read to learn about issues, spot problems, analyze and argue.  Many cases I read were from England in the 1700 and 1800s.....slightly outdated, but valuable in the concepts they highlight.

So, the next time you ask a lawyer a "simple" question, don't be annoyed when he or she says "it depends".  That is the truth.  Law is about arguments, about the gray matter of the world.  As a favorite law professor of mine said, "if you think law is like a bus schedule, you are in the wrong place."

Image credit: - free image

No comments: