The Legal Profession As Seen by a First Year Hawaii Lawyer

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Justin Chu recently joined our firm. I asked him to write a blog about his experiences thus far. Here it is:

As written in a previous blog, I joined this office in July of 2010. Having graduated from law school in May of 2009 and passed the bar in November, this is my first associate attorney position. My blog entries, therefore, will be about the practice of law as seen by someone just out of law school.

Being a law student and being a law practice professional are, surprisingly, two very different experiences. In law school, there are no clients, no judges, and no opposing counsel – only other students and professors. Unless she takes it upon herself to participate in extracurricular activity, all of a law student’s legal writing takes place once a semester during exams. A law student’s finest legal thinking often takes place while wearing sweat pants and an old t-shirt.

To me, the greatest difference between the two experiences is the client. A lawyer’s work is driven by clients. This may seem obvious, but is something that I’m learning in my first year. The lawyer’s job is to best to accomplish his client’s goals. The one common question I always hear asked to potential new clients is “What is it that you want us to help you with?”

That question is not asked in law school. There are no clients, just final exams. A law student does not ask a client about what happened, or what the client would like accomplished. There are no facts to be discovered. The law student is given an objective prompt – the facts often describe a scenario involving multiple people that eventually lead to a conflict. The student is not to assume any facts not written in the question. The exam then directs the test taker to “Determine Person X’s liability.” After this, the law student applies his knowledge of the relevant law to the facts, makes an argument both for and against Person X, and finally gives an opinion of Person X’s probable liability/non-liability. This ends the question. There is no lawyer asking the client “What do you want us to help you with?” In law school, we never consider whether the client should settle his claim or pursue arbitration/mediation. In law school, the client always has unlimited funds, time, and determination to get his dispute all the way to a judge.

I have already found that this is not true in the real practice of law. Clients have limited funds and time. The facts of a client’s problem are not presented in a few well written, grammatically correct paragraphs. A lawyer must uncover those facts from his client, from the opposing party, from witnesses, and documents. An important question I have learned I must always ask myself while doing my work is “Is what I am doing cost efficient for the client?”

While going from school to practice is an adjustment, it is a welcome one. Meeting a client whose case I am working on gives me extra motivation to do my best, as it lets me know that I’m helping out real people with an important dispute in their lives. And, contributing to a successful motion or trial is a much more exciting experience than getting an A.

I am eager to continue to learn the ins and outs of practice and to share these experiences.