Law School Makes Students Overly Analytical

A 1L at St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami wrote to say she enjoyed The “Companion Text” to Law School and especially connected to the chapter on the personality changes that occur in law students, specifically, becoming overly analytical. She gave a funny example:

I find it hard trying to switch gears back and forth from analytical law school mode to normal person mode.

We are trained to “think like lawyers” every waking moment of the day. But that doesn’t always work around our non-law student loved ones. It creates a kind of dissonance, I guess.

A lot of times when I try to explain law school things to friends and family and they just don’t get it, I either don’t have the energy to figure out how to communicate it accurately or the communication gap comes during a particularly stressful period—just before memos are due, for example—and I am afraid to open my mouth because I might erupt with irritable snaps or some other stream of emotion that isn’t really directed toward my loved ones but will likely end up coming out that way.

Here’s a story that could be in The “Companion Text” to Law School about the whole mental rewiring process law students go through as they work their way through law school and the confusion that ensues as family members try to figure out what the heck is going on. I called my grandpa and the conversation went like this:

Me: “What’cha doing?”

Grandpa: “Well, I just walked through the door.”

Me: “Oh. Which door?”

Grandpa: Silence…

Finally, after a long pause, he burst into laughter and said, “I just walked through the door to my house! I thought that was a given!” He laughed about it, but I could tell there was a little shock in his voice, like he thought I had lost my marbles.

I then had to explain to him that law students constantly clarify and ask questions because our brains have been trained think that way! Of course, it’s not that I lacked the common sense to assume he was implying he just got home and “walked through the door” of his house—but it’s like the law student in me had to ask just to be sure.

I have had other people make comments (half-jokingly, half seriously) about the fact that my “common sense” seems to have gone out the window since I became a law student. I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences this—family members and friends don’t realize that lawyers and law students see factual assumptions as no-nos.

Being well-trained in critical-thinking skills–including knowing that the most accurate answer to most questions in law or life is “It depends on the facts”–is both a blessing and a curse to law students and lawyers. If you want a balanced, well-reasoned answer to a vexing question, ask a lawyer. On the other hand, law students and lawyers can drive people around them nuts by overanalyzing every word spoken.

Speaking of balanced “on the one hand, on the other hand”-thinking, here’s a judge who did it literally.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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