On Thinking well – part two

(Edited January 11, 2023; March 19, 2023)

An attorney once said to me, “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 had ever dealt with, he had a fair share of legal wisdom and insight.

His words hurt my pride. 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, how to properly craft legal documents, reading different rulings on various cases, etc.

An excellent graphic explaining crucial steps for becoming a critical thinker.

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 I reasoned, that counted for something which would qualify me as thinking like a lawyer.

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

As 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-lawyerly people.”

His words, though, stayed with me. For all of his hubris, I admired 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.

A girlfriend in high school, Michelle, 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) and PA (Parental Alienation)? 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 a knowledgeable and hopefully accurate 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?

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Attributed to Aristotle, but probably a fake quote. Still, I think it’s great.

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.

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’m not suggesting you must change your views on any topic currently being discussed; 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. In other words, “Don’t judge an Indian until you have walked in his moccasins.”

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/PA—who might be helped by employing critical thinking skills 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 on any topic can make all the difference in how you accurately discern truth from error and be able to separate wheat from chaff.

My favorite American president was Abraham Lincoln. As most know, one of his most famous—and controversial—acts while President was the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation; this freed the slaves in the southern states during the third year of the nation’s Civil War.

Lincoln was an attorney. Predominantly self-educated, he was a voracious reader. One of his law partners, William Herndon, a fellow abolitionist, wrote that both he and Lincoln would subscribe to various different newspapers, including those partial to, and in support of, the abolitionist perspective.

Herndon related it was Lincoln who started subscribing to southern newspapers sympathetic to the slavery issue. Lincoln did this to get a well-rounded understanding of this contentious issue. Lincoln allegedly said, “Let us have both sides on our table; each is entitled to its ‘day in court.'” (pg. 45)

This is an excellent and literal example of what I’m referring to when it comes to critical thinking and “thinking like a lawyer.” Being able to investigate both sides of an argument so to better understand the issues at hand is part of learning how to be a better and more precise thinker.

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