We’ve all seen those cheesy posters at our local Spencer’s stores. No, I’m not talking about the one with the dogs sitting around a poker table, although that poster decorates my dining room nicely. I’m talking about the posters that talk about “all the things I need to know about [insert a profession here] I learned from kindergarten.”
I realized there wasn’t one made for lawyers, which is probably because people didn’t want to offend kindergartners and put them on the same level as lawyers. (That was my shameless lawyer joke for this column. At least that’s out of the way.)
So it got me thinking, did I really learn everything I need to know about being a lawyer in kindergarten? I hope not, because it will make the monthly payments of those law school loans a lot more difficult to pay back if I could have learned everything about practicing law from a 6-year-old. I’m sure there are some things I learned in law school that are different than what I learned in kindergarten, but slamming a beer in eight seconds isn’t something that will get me far in life.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far for what I’ve learned in kindergarten that translates to the practice of law.
1. Share your toys
In this case, the items to be shared aren’t as exciting as a shiny red fire engine or the new edition of See and Spell. (That robot voice still haunts my dreams.) In this scenario, “share your toys” translates loosely to “turn over your evidence.” (OK, it’s a loose translation, but work with me on this.) I realize that sharing five boxes of moldy, dusty paperwork isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time (or at least not anyone fun), but it’s a good lesson to learn nonetheless. Don’t be stingy with the toys, or with the paperwork. Share the love, and the paper cuts.
2. Don’t talk when the teacher is talking
I had a hard time with this one in school, which I realize is shocking considering I’m such a wallflower normally. (More like a wallflower that is bright and bold and spits when it speaks.) Not talking over the teacher easily translates to the rule not to talk while a judge is talking, or at least if you do, make sure it’s outside the judge’s range of hearing. Depending on which judge you have (and the quality of his hearing aid), his hearing range could be as far as the next room, or as close as five feet away. Know your range. The ramifications of breaking this rule in court are a bit stronger than getting a time out or having to wash erasers at recess, so make sure you know just how far your judge’s Beltones reach.
3. Enjoy every second of recess
Whether you’re playing hopscotch on the sidewalk or scrambling to find another witness, make the most of the recess time given. You never know when it’s going to be called short because the judge wants to finish the trial, or because someone threw up on the steps. Either way, enjoy each moment of this glorious free time (and by “free time” I mean “time you’re billing your client”).
4. Be nice to your fellow classmates
I realize there are different ideas as to what constitutes being nice to other attorneys. Some attorneys consider being nice as simply saying hello, while others consider being nice as refraining from physical violence and a cheap blow to the face. Whatever the definition, attorneys should treat each other with respect, just like the kids do in kindergarten. And if someone doesn’t return the favor, we should also respond the way kindergartners do: by sticking out our tongues and calling them a stupid head.
5. Don’t copy off your neighbor
This goes for math tests, but it also goes for legal writing as well. In the six-year-old world, when you copy it’s called being a “copycat,” which isn’t the nicest (or the most creative) of names. But in the legal world, when you copy a bar journal article it’s called plagiarism and the ramifications can be a bit steeper. Copying off your neighbor in kindergarten will cost you a time out and your afternoon snack, which is a harsh punishment because those Nilla Wafers are truly delicious. However, copying off your fellow lawyer will cost you a “time out” from practicing law, which is a nice way of saying disbarment. It will also cost you a ton of fees for a malpractice defense. Do everyone a favor and do your own work. You might not win the case, but you will win another day of the joy that comes with practicing law (and being able to pay your mortgage).
I’m not saying these are all the rules I learned from kindergarten about the practice of law, but it’s a good start. If only judges would allow us to adorn our motions and briefs with scratch and sniff stickers and colored pencil drawings, the world would be a better place.
©2012Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of The Levison Group. Lisa Henderson-Newlin is a member of the law firm McAnany Van Cleave and Phillips. Contact Under Analysis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.