Law schools teach three bad habits—ones that are particularly deleterious to pretrial and trial advocates. These three dreadful habits can be broken, and the means to breaking them are covered here and, in more depth, in the Trial Advocacy: Planning, Analysis, and Strategy and Pretrial Advocacy: Planning, Analysis, and Strategy books. Visit the first bad habit here and the second one here.
While law school inflicts the first two bad habits on law students, law school merely perpetuates the teaching of a bad habit that the students learned in undergraduate school—cramming. For most law school classes, the students show up for lectures and discussions throughout the term and then take a final. They may have a midterm examination. They can sit back and wait until near the end of the term to prepare for the exam.
The practice of law isn’t patterned that way, particularly if you are a litigator. A trial lawyer will have multiple cases to track with court imposed or other deadlines. How important is meeting deadlines? Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3 puts it succinctly, “ A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” When we receive our bar journal, where do we look first? We go to the back pages to see who has been suspended or disbarred. And, what is usually one of the reasons for sanctions or disbarment? Violation of RPC 1.3.
How can law school break the habit that was formed in undergraduate school? First and foremost by discussing the importance of due diligence and meeting deadlines. Second, courses such as pretrial advocacy, trial advocacy and legal writing among others can set deadlines for assignments and enforce them with penalties for lateness.
In sum, law schools should recognize that they foster bad habits in their students, particularly these three: (1) being a lousy communicator; (2) missing the core message of a case; and (3) being a procrastinator. Then, law schools should address the problems and take steps to help students break the habits.