law student

by Patrick Gaffney

Recently, Judge Lane Smith, of Leon County, wrote an open Letter to a Law School Graduate.1  I find it to be instructive to all law school graduates, old and young.  Here, I have pulled out some of the highlights.  I place a comment after each quote.

Diligently protect your reputation by being honest and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.  Having good character and a reputation for fairness will serve you well.  Don’t say or do anything that you wouldn’t say or do in front of your mother, your boss, a journalist, or the sheriff.  Likewise, be careful what you post, say, or do on the internet.  Social media is a double-edged sword.  You can avoid scandal, prison, heartache, and disbarment by following this simple advice.

People notice how you treat others, including the janitor, your paralegal, and opposing counsel.  Show respect to everyone and be plain-spoken…

Comment:  Unfortunately, some very seasoned marital and family lawyers say things to other lawyers that they would not say in front of their mother.

Do you want to be a successful trial lawyer?  Visit your local courthouse and observe how skilled lawyers and judges handle hearings and trials.  Screen out and eliminate bad cases up front.  Outwork your opponents, don’t overreach, and adopt a style suitable to your personality.

Comment:  One of the great experiences I had as a young lawyer was working as a prosecutor.  I worked in an environment where a lawyer could go to the courtrooms and see trials in progress.  I learned a lot this way.

Great trial lawyers are great storytellers! Tell simple, direct, and memorable stories.  Juries are more likely to return favorable verdicts if your presentation at trial involves a combination of visual, auditory, and kinetic learning.

Comment:  Storytelling is an important part of lawyering.  I often say that the difference between a story teller and a lawyer is that the lawyer has to prove the story in court.  Becoming a better storyteller will make one a better lawyer.

Try to listen twice as much as you speak, because when you are new you don’t have a clue.  Listen to what people say and notice what they don’t say.  Often their body language will verify or betray their words.  Ask questions to clarify, distinguish, expose, and summarize.

Comment:  Listening is one of the most important skills that lawyers and parents can develop.

1 Smith, Lane, Letter to a Law School Graduate, The Florida Bar News, July 15, 2018.,retrieved from:

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