How a lawyer helped me become a critical thinker

There I sat in a law partner’s office, holding a red inked memo. “We do things a little differently in our firm than you obviously did in law school,” he told me. “We spell out all of the details of a case—not just a summary of the facts and then the holding. We make it so specific that the partner who is reading it doesn’t have to step foot in the library. You’ve told him all of the details. Rewrite it.”

So I rewrote it. The next draft was equally as bloody. “What questions does your analysis raise?” Find me cases with similar propositions.”  And so it went. I would leave my draft on his chair. He would call me into his office and review it. Saturday blurred into Sunday as I worked on the art of writing a legal memo:

  • What was the question presented?
  • What were the relevant facts?
  • Discuss and apply any related cases and authority
  • Analyze and synthesize

On Monday, all he said was “better.” I plugged away, questioning, revising, and becoming prepared to argue any angle of that case. Until Friday. He walked into my office holding the latest draft, pipe in hand, and handed the memo to me. There were no markings.

This partner helped me become a lawyer. I graduated law school, but I didn’t master Socratic thinking until I worked for him. He helped me see all of the possibilities of critical thinking.

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