Surprisingly, the best lawyers may not be consist of individuals who dedicated themselves to the study of law.
Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption told the UK Telegraph that it is “very unfortunate” that many up-and-coming lawyers cannot speak a foreign language and they have “much less in the way of general culture” than their predecessors.
Instead, Lord Sumption, 63, suggested that aspiring attorneys would benefit from first earning degrees in history or mathematics, and then attending law school.
Currently a judge, Lord Sumption, once had some of this common-law nation’s most powerful clients, including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Today, his counsel is limited to ad hoc advice and informal guidance to future generations.
According to Lord Sumption, legal arguments are less about the law and more about correct factual analysis.
“Once you’re understood them it’s usually obvious what the answer is. The difficulty then becomes to reason your way in a respectable way towards it,” he says.
“That’s why the study of something involving the analysis of evidence, like history or classics, or the study of a subject which comes close to pure logic, like mathematics, is at least as valuable a preparation for legal practice as the study of law.”
Wise advice, but for many practicing law firm professionals, it’s a case of too little, too late. It’s impossible to re-draft your education and pedigree. So what now?
Taking Lord Sumption’s counsel, pick up a book on business, art, or literature.
Law firm’s should consider giving associates educational gifts for the holidays, such as Michael J. Mauboussin’s The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing or even Logicomix, a comic-book about the quest for logical certainty in mathematics, as reviewed by the New York Times.
As a law firm, encourage your associates to participate in after-work book groups, philosophical seminars, math clubs, or sports teams. Your attorney’s next big legal inspiration may emerge from an extracurricular activity.
“Appreciating how to fit legal principles to particular facts is a real skill. Understanding the social or business background to legal problems is essential. I’m not sure current law degrees train you for that, nor really are they designed to,” Lord Sumption continued to tell The Telegraph.
“If you don’t have [a command of reasoning skills, an ability to understand and use evidence, and broad literary culture] you are going to find it difficult to practice [law]. If you don’t know any law that is not a problem; you can find out.”
By encouraging your associates to learn other languages, read extensively in other areas, or master other skills, you also lower the chances they’ll get burnt out on the law.
It’s time to take back productivity in your law practice… by practicing something else.