Summer is nearly upon us (unless you happen to live in the Pacific Northwest where the weather, like an Alzheimer’s patient, is never quite sure whether it’s late Spring 2012 or late Fall 1938) and this means that, along with my annual month-long battle royal with the local Argentine Ant population, law schools are once again irresponsibly allowing law students to leave campus containment zones and
attempt to interact with normal people.
Not only does this create confusion in the general population, it is also very stressful for the law students themselves, who are apt to have become accustomed to operating within the law school environment in which, allegedly, a majority of the population have a functional knowledge of how the legal system operates. Of course, there are generalized guides for social interaction available everywhere but these tend not to deal with the specific sorts of issues that a law student is likely to
foolishly go out of his way to encounter. With this in mind, here are three tips for specific situations which are apt to crop up when law students mix with normal folks.
How to tell someone that there’s no possible way they have a case. Often, this is presented as a story with an ending along the lines of “…and then I called the customer a d*ck and my boss fired me even though I was all like ‘free speech, man.'” Those pesky “unlicensed practice of law” rules mean that it’s probably not the best path to outright tell the offender that he’d have to be an idiot to sue based on those facts.
But I have yet to find any case in which a court ruled that uncontrollable laughter constituted “legal advice”—so your gut reaction here is probably OK. However, if you’re the sort of person who has both a fantastic poker face and a sadistic streak (and, let’s face it, you’re in law school so the sadistic streak is guaranteed), eagerly referring them to a licensed attorney seems to be perfectly acceptable. A word of caution here; asking if you can follow along to watch the attorney’s reaction may tip your hand.
How to explain to normals that you can’t help them. This is the sort of thing that seems very easy but can often be made ridiculously difficult when the other party insists, “I won’t tell if you don’t” or, demonstrating a stunning lack of understanding of the fundamental nature of law students, attempts to appeal to your humanity in the vein of, “oh, come on, we’re family.”
The biggest threat here is persistence. While law students are generally impervious to guilt (“you just don’t want to help me, I see”) trying to politely rephrase “no” for forty-five minutes can cause some people to crack. At some point (I prefer immediately) you just have to dispense with tact and be forceful about it. Do take care not to be too forceful about your answer though as drowning them is only a momentary pleasure and most states’ justifiable homicide statutes don’t allow the excuse of, “they just wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
How to explain that “Law” is a vast field with many different and non-overlapping specializations. Generally speaking, this explanation becomes more necessary during the 2L year as you begin to focus your attention on a specific area of the law to the exclusion of other areas (e.g. prosecution if you have a latent desire to rule the world but figure this is as close as you’ll get, or tax law if you wear your hair in a side part, have pleated slacks, and an irrationally strong attachment to your HP 12c calculator).
Thankfully, most people understand this concept once you’ve explained that, as interesting as their questions about Azerbaijan’s zoning laws might be, your classes in health law have been rather light in their coverage of current property law in former Soviet states. For the persistently obtuse I recommend responding with similarly inane questions for them (e.g. if they’re an accountant, ask them to prove Fermat’s last theorem on the grounds that “it’s all just math”). If sarcasm fails to work, see the advice given in #2 above, again with the caution that you should take care to balance the benefits of momentary pleasure against the applicable homicide statutes for your jurisdiction.
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