Lawyers spend a lot of time attempting to persuade other people. They persuade judges to promulgate rules of law that favor their clients. They persuade their law partners to adopt their interpretation of existing law or to adopt their strategy for litigation. They persuade clients to accept the dictates of the law. They persuade adversaries in settlement negotiations and their clients’ business associates in contract negotiations. They persuade legislatures to fund legal services for the poor, to adopt or to reject law reforms.
Law professors spend most of their time teaching – or at least practicing – the art of persuasion. We do this by exposing students to a wide array of argumentative moves and countermoves in the context of real world disputes. Law students react to this training with deep ambivalence. On one hand, “thinking like a lawyer” has a broadening effect: addressing real cases from the standpoint of both sides teaches students that questions they thought were easy are actually hard. No claim or interest or right appears to be absolute. Understanding the reasons why this is so, and why we might want to protect competing interests, helps students develop expertise in argumentative tactics. Moreover, by teaching students to recognize the complex and contradictory nature of our values, legal education at its best clarifies the value choices we must make in governing social relations. This process may be empowering. As one of my colleagues has said, it not only allows you to state a case for what you believe in, but it also allows you to become a terror at the dinner table.