There is a lot of knowledge and skills that students develop while in law school. A significant portion of 1L year is learning how to write articulately, dissect long and complex cases, and think creatively. One skill that prospective law students are often curious about is whether law school will teach them how to argue.
Yes, law school does tend to improve a law student’s ability to argue. Law school teaches students how to dissect arguments, evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and respond in a concise way.
So it is true that law school will likely help develop your argumentation skills, but there is some nuance to that. Lets take a closer look at what kind of argumentative skills law school actually develops, do lawyers have to be good at arguing, and whether you should go to law school if you are good at arguing.
How does law school teach students how to argue?
You might be surprised to discover that law school does not really focus on traditional oral argumentation, in fact, you will likely make very few oral arguments throughout the course of law school unless you volunteer for mock trial or moot court competitions.
As a law student you will write a number of memos and writings that are more geared toward persuasive writing. Law schools focus significantly more on written advocacy skills than on oral advocacy. This is for a very good reason because no matter what kind of lawyer you become, most of your time will likely be spent sitting in front of a computer researching and writing.
Of course, if you are interested in oral advocacy in law school you can focus on classes and extracurriculars that further develop oral skills. Negotiations, trial seminars, and clinics are all excellent options for developing oral argumentation skills.
Do lawyers have to be good at arguing?
Yes, law students have to be good at arguing, but most law students do not have to be good public speakers. If you are new to law school or have not been yet, you might be surprised to find out that many lawyers never actually appear in court. There are a number of practices such as transactional, tax, government (non-litigators), some estate lawyers, most BigLaw associates, and many others, that rarely if ever have to speak publicly.
Law students tend to come into law school with a lot of preconceived notions of what being a lawyer entails. Unfortunately, a lot of these notions are drawn from Law & Order and Suits. The truth is that even most lawyers who focus entirely on litigation spend most of their time dissecting written material and writing. Public speaking is simply not a very big concern for most lawyers.
So the good news here is that if you are a person that does not like public speaking or making oral arguments, there are plenty of opportunities for you in the legal field!
Should you go to law school if you are good at arguing?
We already know that you don’t have to be good at making oral arguments to be a successful law student, but should you go to law school if you are a strong oral advocate? Being a natural public speaker and good oral advocate can be a plus in law school and in certain practice areas of the legal profession, but being a strong oral advocate should not influence you in deciding whether to attend law school.
So many students have attended law school for little more reason than their parents and friends told them that they were good at arguing and talked a lot. These two characteristics are dreadfully insufficient for a successful law school experience. As mentioned above, only a small portion of arguments are actually made orally, and many of the oral arguments and discussions you are likely to get into will involve your co-workers and clients.
Something else to consider about being good at arguing is that enjoying an argument can often be a bad trait to have in the legal profession. Yes, lawyers have to make creative arguments as part of their advocacy and solve problems, but that does not mean you want to be upsetting the court or other lawyers by making frivolous arguments for the sake of arguing.
Law school does typically improve a law student’s ability to argue, but we learned that there is a lot of nuance to that. The legal profession’s focus is namely on written advocacy not oral, and most of what you will be doing as a lawyer is sitting in front of a computer writing and reading. We also learned that you don’t have to be a strong oral advocate to be a successful law student or lawyer, and that being an argumentative person can actually have its downsides.