Sometime before law school each of us likely saw THE PAPER CHASE:
Professor Kingsfield: “You come in here with a skull full of mush and you leave thinking like a lawyer.”
A normal human can rarely muster actor John Houseman’s dripping pomposity—he won an Oscar for the role. But
with this in mind, we formed “study groups” not realizing they were just the movie’s plot device. When you hear
the line now, the response probably ranges from “Oh, please” to “You have to be kidding.”
(Frankly, I didn’t perceive my “thinking” to be all that different after law school than before.)
But there must have been some point—wasn’t there?
Well, yes. Thinking like a lawyer is about something …
Persuasion is the point of legal logic. Many things persuade, both verbal and nonverbal—
the facts, the party, the cause, the money (both in dispute and for the lawyer’s fee),
etc. But we work under the premise that the force of our legal thinking is important.
Our words, especially written words, use a process of legal reasoning; in other words,
Persuasion depends on the force of logic.
Words Must Present Logic English is a language heavily dependent on word order
“Sentences should follow one another in harmonious sequence,”
wrote Winston Churchill “so the paragraphs must fit onto one
another like the automatic couplings of railway carriages.”
2. Quoted in
TOM GOLDSTEIN &
JETHRO K. LIEBERMAN,
THE LAWYER’S GUIDE TO
WRI TING WELL 110 (1989).