Legally Educated

Knowing is Not Quite Half the Battle

A guest post from my law clerk. Next up, we’ll get the new attorney to write one. Scott’s writing below is kind (and well done), even if he does call me old. Your check is docked!

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My name is Scott Jurchisin, and I am the new law clerk at MKT Law. I went to college at Hamline University, where I majored in Legal Studies and Philosophy. I am now a second-year law student at William Mitchell College of Law. I started competing in mock trial in high school, which is when I decided I wanted to become a lawyer. I continued to compete in mock trial through college, where I was nationally recognized for my performance. One of my mock trial coaches happened to be one of Mark’s former law clerks. So during my first year of law school, when Mark was looking for a new law clerk, my former coach gave him my name. Since then, I have been working for the firm and gaining real-world experience, which law school classes are unable to provide students.

Final exams in law school are supposed to measure how prepared students are to practice law. My final exam for my Contracts course was about whether a business and a building manager had an enforceable lease. I ended up writing nearly twenty pages over the course of three hours. After working at MKT Law, PLC for Mark K. Thompson, I realize that final exams are not a measure of my preparedness to practice law, but only of my knowledge of certain subjects.

Here’s the difference: When studying for my Contracts final, I am working in a closed environment. I could look at my list of all the topics covered in class that semester (offer, acceptance, consideration, promissory estoppel, the statute of frauds, the parol evidence rule, capacity, quantum meruit, etc.) and know that I would only be tested on those, and nothing else. I knew that there would be issues dealing with contract law, and my only obligation was to spot the contracts issues and write about them until my fingers went numb.

In contrast, whenever Mark gets a new client, I do not know exactly what the issue will be. The case will most likely require me to both identify and learn about an aspect of the law I am unfamiliar with. Fortunately, I have access to several resources at work (past cases, statutes, Mark’s years of experience and knowledge) that make the assignments from Mark manageable, unlike at school, where the only tool I have is my own brain.

Since starting work at the firm, I have realized that law school exams cannot mimic this aspect of real life: where the student is completely unaware of what type of issue a client will have. Students have to know the subject of the exam or they will not be able to study for it beforehand. In the legal field, lawyers find out what the problem is and then research it. Because of this difference, final exams measure how much a student knows, while the work of an actual lawyer measures how well a lawyer learns.

This is one of the many reasons my experience with Mark has been so valuable. Working at a firm gives me an opportunity to struggle with and learn the law without being confined to a particular subject area. When Mark hands me a new file, I do not know whether the issue will be regarding employment, securities, a personal injury, default on a loan, the breaking of a contract, a failure to disclose, or contractor services. Law school does not give me the same opportunity to constantly learn and explore the law that this work experience does. Working with Mark allows me access to a resource I never had access to before: the mind of someone who has been working in business litigation for fifteen years.

While Law school exams give me an opportunity to apply my knowledge, the firm constantly gives me opportunities to learn. In a world where “no two days are the same,” as is often fondly observed by Mark, being able to learn is more important than being knowledgeable.

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