What I really learned (and didn’t learn) in Law School

By Asheville, North Carolina Injury Attorney Lakota R. Denton

I have strong memories of the anxiety of law school. The exams. The professors. The classmate who asks way too many questions. Most importantly, the anxiety of not knowing if my $150,000 investment in law school would translate into a job. Was I learning what I needed to know in order to actually practice law? Weren’t there secret words you absolutely had to use when you filed documents with the court? Fortunately for me, I guess I learned enough to earn a living. I’m a personal injury lawyer in Asheville, North Carolina now in practice for myself. Having done this for 7 years now, there are lots of things I know how to do – some of which I learned in law school and many of which I definitely did not learn in law school. Here’s a list of the things you can expect to actually learn in law school and things you’ll have to get from somewhere else:

I learned how to do legal research. My legal writing and research class was the most I learned in all of law school. Legal Research is pretty important for most lawyers. Figuring out how cases are cited, interpreted, how authoritative they are, and how to use precedent to your advantage is complicated stuff that you cannot really teach yourself very easily. This is what law schools should be all about. I learned how to read a case and take from it only what I needed for my research. I learned how to build an argument using cases from different courts (appeals court, supreme court, etc…). I learned the basics of writing a good legal brief. Even if you don’t write briefs as a lawyer, legal research is critical – it informs your strategy on how to prepare any case for trial or hearing. Of course, this was only 1 class out of 40 I probably took in law school, but it was the most helpful by far. To know more about the Best Summer Pre-Law Programs read this blog article from


I learned how to speak legalese. The law is another language. Imagine an entire planet of people who think they are very, very smart and love to argue all the time and prove how smart they are. Now imagine what kind of language this planet would develop – that’s what the law is. The law uses Latin phrases a lot like “respondeat superior” and “res ipsa loquitor.” The law uses old-fashioned words like “hereinafter” and “theretofore.” The law uses legal-specific terms like “contributory negligence” and “summary judgment.” Now, the law school will teach you what these terms mean because you have to know them in order to read the cases and understand the law. Law school is good at teaching this new language. However, don’t think for a minute that this language is good for anyone but other lawyers and judges. Juries will hate you if you walk up in front of them and say “Hereinafter you all will hear about extraordinary contributing negligence which quite simply negates any effect of respondeat superior in this matter.” Nor would you tell your client that this is a simple case of res ipsa loquitor. They will hate you if you do. Law school teaches you the language of the law, but don’t think that means you have to use it to sound smart.

I learned that the practice of law is interpreting laws subjectively, there is never a definitive correct answer. This one is not something every professor will actually articulate. You’ll have to figure it out during law school. After reading all these court opinions and judges opinions and the opinions of professors and classmates it became clear to me that everybody is interpreting things however they want, usually based on their own biases. I learned that supreme court judges could interpret anything any way they want and even support it with valid legal reasoning. Good professors will point this out. It’s important to know that lawyers and judges are just like everyone else – they make mistakes and are biased and sometimes lazy and sometimes brilliant.

I did not learn how to file a lawsuit. In fact, I’m not sure I ever even saw a lawsuit of any kind while in law school. No one ever came into class and said, “This guy was just run over by a truck that was driven by a drunk driver, and his family is here wondering how to hold them responsible and also how to pay for the all the medical bills – now go write up a lawsuit for the family.” The cases you read in laws school don’t include the “complaint” or the allegations against the defendant. My professor never said what to include in filing a lawsuit. They left that stuff up for internships and jobs after law school. I guess they figured nobody in their right mind would walk out of law school and start filing lawsuits without having a boss or somebody to look over their shoulder. When I first filed a civil lawsuit, I used a template from another lawyer and copied all the same language even though I didn’t know what half of it meant. It had a lot of “heretofore” and “thereafter” in it.

I did not learn how to talk to juries or clients about the law. Law school does not help you interpret complicated laws into regular English. As a lawyer, people need you to tell them what the law is. You can’t use legalese. You have to explain it in a way they can digest. When I tell a jury what contributory negligence is, I tell them its when the defendant says the plaintiff contributes to his own injury in some way – like if the plaintiff should have looked where he was walking before he fell into a hole. Not only does law school not teach you how to talk to normal people, it actually teaches you to alienate normal people by using big complicated words. There should be a class on how to simplify what you’re trying to say to normal people. But there’s not.

I did not learn how to take my time and carefully examine all the possible strategies in a case. In fact, law school teaches you the opposite. Law school exams force you to look at a case as quickly as possible under timed conditions. In no courtroom that I’ve ever been in has the judge told me “Your client was just hit by a dump truck and seriously injured. Now, you have 90 minutes to file a lawsuit, and you can’t change anything after these 90 minutes. Go!” In the legal world, you have years to develop your case and identify all the issues you need to deal with. Law school exams teach us to be shallow, fast thinkers – just the opposite of good legal practice.

Law school is obviously essential if you want to practice law. But don’t be confused about what it can and cannot do for you. Knowing that you probably have at least $100,000 in debt for law school, make sure you understand what you are actually getting out of it. There are some obvious gaps in the legal education that you’ll need to fill on your own.

Asheville North Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer Lakota Denton

Lakota Denton is an Asheville Personal Injury Lawyer who focuses on recovering for injured people. Lakota has been practicing law in Asheville, N.C. since 2011. His Asheville Personal Injury practice focuses on motor vehicle accidents, including auto accidents, truck accidents, bike accidents, and motorcycle accident cases.

The personal injury firm offers a free consultation, and Lakota can be reached 828-333-5996 or visit the firm’s website at