Thinking like a lawyer

Thinking like a lawyer

Articles, Blog , , 24 Comments

[MUSIC PLAYING] -Every law school promises
to teach its students to think like lawyers. But what does that mean? What does it mean to
think like a lawyer? At the Texas A&M
School of Law, we break the process of
thinking like a lawyer into discrete steps and teach
those steps to our students explicitly. Let’s look at a
very simple example, a problem that requires no prior
legal experience to understand. A jogger runs along a beach
past a sign that says, “$100 fine for littering.” A few steps past the sign, the
jogger pauses to eat a banana. When he’s done, he throws
the peel on the ground. A police officer sees
the jogger drop the peel. She recalls that her
supervisor did not issue a littering ticket to
a person who poured coffee on the ground. But the supervisor
did issue a ticket to someone who threw a candy
bar wrapper on the ground. Should the police officer
ticket the jogger? Legal reasoning, or
thinking like a lawyer, is rule-based reasoning. Lawyers always look for
the rule that governs the conduct in question. Here, the rule is simple–
$100 fine for littering. But what does “littering” mean? Here, “littering” is
potentially ambiguous. When part of a
rule is ambiguous, lawyers look to see
how the rule was applied in prior situations. Prior situations are
called precedents. By comparing the facts
of the current case to the facts of
precedents, lawyers can predict how the rule will
apply in the current case. This process of comparison is
called analogical reasoning, or reasoning by analogy. “Analogical reasoning” is just
a fancy term for something we all do every day–
comparing two or more things to see how similar they are. Here, we have two
precedents that can help us understand
what “littering” means. In the first case, someone who
poured coffee on the ground was not ticketed for littering. In the second case, someone
who threw a candy bar wrapper on the ground was
ticketed for littering. So here’s the point
of comparison. Is a banana peel more
like coffee, or more like a candy bar wrapper? If the banana peel is
more like the coffee, then the officer should
not issue a ticket. But if the banana peel is more
like the candy bar wrapper, then the officer
should issue a ticket. How would a lawyer
compare these three items? By figuring out what
attributes define them. Lawyers call such
attributes “factors.” Let’s see what
attributes, or factors, we can come up with
for these three items. To keep track of
the factors, we’ll use a device I
call the case grid. Let’s list our three cases–
coffee, candy wrapper, and banana– along the top. We’ll list our factors
down the left column, and we’ll leave the last
row for the result– ticket or no ticket. We already know the answer
in two of the cases, so we can fill those in now. We’ll leave a question
mark for the banana peel. A creative lawyer will come
up with as many factors as possible. But in the interest
of time, let’s limit ourselves to just three. Our first factor, or
point of comparison, will be liquid or solid. The coffee is liquid, but the
candy wrapper and banana peel are solid. Our second factor will
be whether the item is natural or artificial. The answer is easy for
the wrapper– artificial– and the peel– natural. But what about coffee? Coffee beans are natural,
but brewed coffee is a manufactured product. So coffee could go either way. We’ll put a question
mark for coffee. Our last factor will
be whether you would put the item in a trash can. Coffee? Probably not. A candy wrapper? Definitely. And a banana? Probably. So now we have three
factors on which to compare the three items. We don’t have enough information
on the second factor, natural or artificial,
for coffee. So let’s disregard that factor. Sorting, ranking, and
discarding factors is another think-like-a-lawyer skill. That leaves two factors. And on both, the peel is
more like the wrapper. Because the peel is more like
the wrapper on the two factors, analogical reasoning
dictates that it will be more like the
wrapper in the result, too. Therefore, the officer
should ticket the jogger. That, in a nutshell,
is how a lawyer would solve a problem like this. Identify the rule,
use precedents to resolve ambiguities
in the rule, use analogical reasoning
to compare the precedents with the current case, and
come up with an answer. Now, lawyers and
most people could solve this problem in
their heads in an instant, but that’s not the point. The point is this. If you have a teacher who
breaks the process of thinking like a lawyer in
two discrete steps, you will learn the
process much more quickly. That’s exactly what
we do at Texas A&M. I’m Professor John
F. Murphy, and this is the Texas A&M School of Law. [BIRDS CHIRPING]

24 thoughts on “Thinking like a lawyer

  • ganster veges Post author

    This really helped thanks a lot I'm thinking of being a lawyer

  • Danang, Vietnam Post author

    I contest that conclusion that they police officer should ticket the jogger, because the banana is biodegradable, and (assuming) that it doesn't violate the purpose behind the no littering sign.

  • werdo Atlaw Post author

    yes i 'm right because of course you cannot just throw away the banana peel,its dangerous if people step on it and falling or how the people got injured.everyone know its organic but sometimes it can be dangerous.

  • El Matador Post author

    bannana will rot

  • suvitra Gunasegaran Post author

    Good one 😊

  • ėš°íŽėē  Post author

    analogical ėœ ė‚Ží•œ

  • ItsTumisho Post author

    But another factor is … is the banana biodegradable

  • S A Post author

    But there was no fine for coffee, because you can spill coffee not on purpose, thus it's not littering we're talking about it's an accident, whereas when you throw away a candy bar cover or banana peel it's bc you're lazy enough to go find a trash can.. thus you have to pay a fine, that's how I would've explained it..

  • D.G.M.ANIA Post author

    no ticket the decomposition is as if the coffin got absorbed into the ground

  • FrankieM2403 Post author

    If you don't like the verdict, you can a-peel it 😁

  • Tyrene 44 Post author

    I do it in just 20 seconds, come on are lawyer stupid

  • Janine Dizon Diga Post author

    I assume that the banana peel was thrown on the sidewalk where people walk and run by, I can potentially see that the banana peel will cause harm to the by passers because we all know that when a banana peel is thrown on a flat surface, a person who accidentally steps on it will slip and fall. Banana peel should be thrown in to the garbage to avoid harm to other people and therefore the police should issue a ticket to the jogger. 🙃ðŸĪĢ

  • Jo D Joe Lewis Jr. Post author

    fuck TAM LAW

  • Layal Allouh Post author

    I know im not a lawyer or anything im just a 13 year old thinking a bout my future but what i was actually thinking that the police shouldn't give a ticket to the jogger because the banana and the rapper can easily throw it in the trash if the police officer officers tell the go pick is up but the coffee who would wipe it it's liquid….. can please someone answer me and correct me it im wrong

  • Hazemos Post author

    A doctor would think that a jogger shouldn't eat a banana while running and risk dehydration.. this was a lawyer thinking like a doctor 😉

  • Joey Post author

    Obama made me do it.

  • helena cisneros Post author

    in tj my granma would take the pe4el as trash but organically good for the enviroment but in sandeigo trhey dont fo tht

  • Woody Woodlstein Post author

    But I'd get this wrong. It's biodegradable. It's natural it literally her on a tree. The wrapper scores poorly on all of those factors.
    I would get everything wrong !
    I'd have to think no like a lawyer?
    Seems counterintuitive since they don't seem to dig too deep.

  • Woody Woodlstein Post author

    Another issue I have with law school and lsats is appeals courts. These people get it wrong all the time. Then it gets to the next higher court. Until it gets to the Supreme Court.
    So it means there's a lot of well paid lawyers out there who get it wrong.
    Shouldn't they find a other line of work ? Same with judges. ?

  • Michael Nick Post author

    Well i guess ive been thinking like a lawyer my whole life

  • The Georgia Peach Post author

    I was going to answer pretty much the same as the other person. Both the coffee and bananna are biodegradable. But, if it's a beach setting then it would likely take longer for the bananna to brake down then people would like. So, if the bananna isn't breaking(rotting) down fast enough and lots of people are doing it, then it creates an eyesore i.e. litter.

  • Animals Are God's Gift Post author

    Am I the only one who's never seen or heard of someone ik slipping on a banana peel

  • Flash Monkey Post author

    the banana will decompose

  • Bryllejustin Reforma Post author

    So therefore my verdict is that lawyers complicate matters for more money due to longer proceedings is my take on this one.

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