On Thinking well – part two

An attorney once said to me, “Roy, your problem is you don’t think like a lawyer.” These words proved to be a gift.

I was in a court action, representing myself, and this attorney was representing the other party. Because I was acting as my own attorney, I often dealt personally with him. Though he was one of the most obnoxious and arrogant of people I have dealt with, he had a fair share of legal wisdom and insight.

His words hurt my pride. Even though I knew I was not an attorney, I prided myself in what I felt was my legal acumen. After all, I had represented myself in this particular courtroom for years, filing motions, responses to motions, continuances, arguing before the judge, etc.

I spent hours and hours in both the University of AZ law library and the much smaller law library housed in the Superior Court Building in downtown Tucson, studying law books, rules of civil procedures, and reading different rulings on various cases.

I became adept at correctly filing motions with the court that caused the judge to at least take the motion seriously and rule on it. Though the judge rarely ruled in my favor, at least my successful navigation of the myriad of rules and regulations governing various legal filings was correct.

I understood I wasn’t a lawyer, but I was, and had been, representing myself as a lawyer for years. Surely, that counted for something that would qualify me as thinking like a lawyer, I reasoned.

I was wrong. Though I spent years studying the law, drafting legal documents with some success and learning the proper decorum required to represent myself in front of a judge, this attorney was correct: I did not know how to think like a lawyer.

As so often happens when our pride gets wounded, I immediately discounted his insightful words and chalked it up to his continuing agenda to make me look and feel like an inadequate fool. I learned attorneys hate dealing with self-represented litigants; it hurts their pride and many feel it is beneath them to deal with “little, uneducated, non-lawyer people.”

His words, though, stayed with me. For all of his hubris, I had to admire him. He knew the law, wrote well, and won cases. He managed his own law firm. Most importantly, he had the respect of the court and the judge.

I had a girlfriend in high school, Michelle, that said something similar to me decades earlier: “Roy, your problem is you believe everybody should think the way you do.” That stung because it came from someone I happened to love at the time. And like this lawyer, Michelle was right.

What does it mean then, to “think like a lawyer?” And why is it relevant to this ongoing discussion of PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome)? Much, it turns out.

Here is a good start.

Thinking like a lawyer is the ability to think critically, as I pointed out in Part One of this series, the counter intuitive ability of withholding judgment on a topic or opinion until a person has performed their due diligence in gathering the needed facts before rendering their opinion.

This is easier said than done, especially when we are dealing with humans who are prone to making decisions based on emotions and not on facts. One of the most personally challenging aspects of this lawyerly way of thinking was being able to persuasively present the case for the other side.

For example, if you are a child from a divorced family, and you have strong feelings against one of your parents, perhaps even hating them, do you have the ability to see things from this disfavored parents viewpoint—their perspective—and persuasively argue their case? Can you see things through their eyes?

Maybe this is too extreme of an example and one that, at this point in a person’s life in dealing with PAS, is asking too much. I understand that.

Let’s take another example: abortion. Say you are pro-choice. Have you researched the topic enough that you can persuasively and accurately represent the pro-life side? To do this is to be well on the way to learning how to think like a lawyer.

Notice I am not suggesting you have to change your views on any topic; what I’m saying is that to fully understand the many nuances of any contested issue and have the ability to correctly choose the correct perspective between any two choices, it might become necessary to see and understand the issue from the other person’s perspective, viewpoint, and understanding.

Please understand I am only scratching the surface of this vast and complicated topic. My hope is that this post will plant a seed for my readers—especially those adults and children affected by PAS—who might be assisted by employing the skills of critical thinking to help navigate truth from error.

It is not necessary to master all, or even most, of the steps to critical thinking, or “thinking like a lawyer.” Simply understanding that each of us benefits from realizing there is “two sides to every story” is sufficient to help you become a better thinker. Then, realizing the importance of gathering evidence before making rash and emotionally driven decisions for one side or the other of any topic, can make all the difference in how you accurately discern truth from error, the wheat from the chaff.

Want more? Click here for an online book dedicated to the topic of “Thinking like a Lawyer.”