Law students and lawyers often tell me that law school changed them. This realization usually occurs after numerous friends and family members tell them that they have changed. “You’re more argumentative” is often heard. Typically, the law student does not feel like they have become a different person, but instead they have been learning new skills. One of the most prevalent experiences about law school is the way that it changes the way you think about everything. Whether you are thinking about an argument to make or about the intention behind a law, law school teaches you that there are no right and wrong answers. It is all about the argument you can make. This is why the Socratic Method is used in almost every law class that you take. The Socratic Method uses a series of questions to help explore potential answers or avenues of thought. The point of the method is to ask questions and engage in the process of exploration. It is not about determining the one and only right answer.
This practice is great experience for the profession that follows law school. However, this practice can also be quite troublesome to every other relationship you have in your life. While a law student sees this method as a useful tool that will help them succeed in law school and in the legal profession, family and friends often see this method as a clear sign that law school has changed their loved one for the worse. No longer can they ask a simple question about what pizza toppings should be on tonight’s dinner. Instead, a thorough debate ensues about the various combinations. Now the friend or family member doubts that they really do love pepperoni on their pizza and they are angry at you for spoiling their favorite meal.
Whether or not your arguments are over pizza toppings or something more substantial, one thing is clear; Law school often makes personal relationships more difficult (and not just because you no longer have time for personal relationships during law school). The main reason for this is because law students are rewarded for being Socratic in their questioning in law classes. This is what they hear their professors doing, this is what their classmates are doing, and this is how they get positive feedback in school. The goal of developing Socratic questioning skills is to strengthen your ability to make a compelling argument. A compelling argument increases your chances of winning an argument. And winning an argument is good…in law school or in the practice of law. Winning an argument in your personal life is not so important, and sometimes can actually be damaging to your relationship.
The more you understand about what is important to those around you, the better you can become at relating to them. What’s important to a law professor, judge, or jury is that you make a compelling argument for your side. This is rewarded in the world of law. What’s important to your friends and family members is that you show that you care about them. This is rewarded in the world of your personal life. In this world, sometimes winning an argument can destroy a relationship. So just because you know how to argue, doesn’t mean that you should argue. Most times, showing your loved ones that you understand them and care for them is much more compelling than any argument you could ever make.
Shawn Healy. PhD