Thursday, March 22, 2012

4L: What to do When . . . You Don't Have Clients Part 2: Learning the Law

"Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it."  ~Proverb from about 954 B.C. 

The idea of attorneys is one that attorneys are typically wealthy.  Closely related to that is they are typically knowledgeable and wise.  The proverb above has an interesting interplay of words.  Look at this:

1) Wisdom is a shelter.
2) Money is a shelter.
3) There is an advantage to knowledge (not wisdom).
4) Wisdom PRESERVES those who have [knowledge].

The writer is specifically stating, by omission, that money does not preserve those who have it, even though it can be a shelter.  On the other hand, knowledge backed by wisdom preserves the wise.  And wisdom can only come through having knowledge and applying it.  This week's blog focuses on HOW to get knowledge that can actually translate into wisdom.  Once wisdom is attained, then money will likely follow.

Learning the Law - A good friend and gracious mentor, Alan Gallas, told me one time, "Practice the law during the day, and learn the law at night."  We were discussing that, as solo practitioners, there really isn't enough time to try to learn the law during working hours.  Between client calls, meetings, court appearances, and document drafting, it is hard to sit down and search an area of law you need to know (or not even know you need to know yet).  When you do have clients and cases to attend to, you must make time in the evening to grab the Mobar CLE deskbooks (or whatever resources your state offers), a treatise on mergers and acquisitions, or get on lexis and look up case law on a certain topic . . .

When you don't have clients it's not that easy . . . I went to law school not so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  This school had a ton of physical books for nearly every state.  The school renovated its library and needed to free up a ton of space by giving away unused books.  The unused books on the East Coast happen to be the entire sets of Vernon's Annotated Missouri Statutes and West's Missouri Digest 2d.  Knowing that I was coming back to the Midwest, Saundra I begrudgingly loaded all 266 books ($10,000 worth of books that I could've never purchased) in the back of my old Land Rover (it looked like it was on the verge of popping a wheelie).

When I first started practicing, and I only had two clients (neither case was an area I really wanted to get into) I decided to start going through my free books to learn certain areas of the law.  And I did this for about one week.  It was actually very hard to learn anything.  I figured out that the only law I was learning was the law related to my two cases. Why? Because I had no purpose in my research or answers I needed to find.

Q and A - As I tried to find things to fill up my time, I began signing up for legal related websites.  A few of them have question and answer forums.  The two that I have found were the easiest to use were and  For the newest attorneys, you probably won't be able to sign up for Avvo for about 9 months.  So sign up for and start answering questions.  For all other attorneys, you already have a Avvo placeholder for your profile because the state bar associations give that information to Avvo (or Avvo takes it, one of the two).

Why is this important? Because you will be forced to seek out a specific answer to a real question.  And these limited scope representation answers probably won't lead to malpractice. (To be honest, several of my answers have translated into paying clients. So that alone should motivate you to do this).  Once you get old enough to go to Avvo, do that.  The questions are better and more specific.

Another thing Avvo offers is a point system.  You get points for answering questions, for other attorney's marking your answer as good, for the asker marking your answer as the best, for writing legal guides, etc.  Being raised on video games, it makes it easy to want to answer questions to increase my score.  It's really kinda competitive and requires good, thorough answers to score better.

When you get a question on a certain area of law, start trying to learn as much as you can so you can answer the question thoroughly.  And if the question doesn't have enough facts don't say, "This doesn't have enough facts and I can't answer this you idiot."  You'd be surprised, but you will see other attorneys answer that way.  Would you put that on a law school exam? I hope not.  Say, "Well if the facts were this way _____ (answer appropriately to the facts). And if they were this way _____________(answer alternatively)."

You'll start finding out you can argue any case both ways.  And you'll know one of the most important things in real practice.  What facts change the outcome.

So run out and start learning to gain knowledge, for wisdom will preserve you if you have knowledge.

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