Lessons from Transitioning from Law Student to Lawyer

Before I entered law school I spent eight years in the workforce: as a paralegal and a brief stint as an entrepreneur.  Although I liked those roles, I did not feel fulfilled and felt myself yearning for something more.  One day after an extensive conversation with a friend I strongly began to reconsider becoming a lawyer.  After much contemplation I took the plunge and made the decision to attend DePaul University’s College of Law.  Lawyers, administrators, and upper classmen tell you that the time will fly, but during the first year that seemed impossible. 

Suddenly I found myself about to enter my third year, and again felt that something was lacking for me with regard to my professional development: I was not sure how to “be” a lawyer.  I had heard from many of my new alumni classmates that the Housing and Community Development Clinic was an incredible learning experience.  I distinctly remember my mentor telling me in April to take the clinic: “I worked so hard in this class, but I have learned so much.  I am pretty sure that [what I learned in] this clinic is why I have my job today!”  As you can imagine, I was sold on getting into this much coveted clinic.

On the first day of class when Professor Lawton stated that she treats our clinic like a medical residency, I knew I was in the right place.  I have worked with clients as a paralegal, legal assistant, and legal clerk, but in clinic I am treated as the head attorney on the case – a terrifyingly awesome concept.  Now, as I am wrapping up my fifth week of clinic participation I sense changes in myself both personally and professionally.  This is especially true after learning the importance of integrative bargaining during our negotiation skills discussion. 

Integrative bargaining is the opposite of what comes to mind when one visualizes lawyers during a negotiation. Instead of trying to win at any cost, integrative bargaining is focused on finding out why the individual sides in a negotiation want the particular resolution that they are seeking.  At the crux of this negotiation style is the importance of working together instead of as adversaries, by listening to one another to facilitate an outcome that satisfies all parties.

Keys to successful integrative bargaining include: eliminating the use of “you” language in favor of “I” language, using objective criteria, considering multiple answers, actively listening, and not discounting the feelings of the other parties.   During this class I learned that the “I must win at all costs” mentality that is inherent in most law students and lawyers can get in the way of advocating for your client.  I have recognized my own non-integrative bargaining tendencies, and begun to actively try to eliminate them from my thought process and vocabulary.  Although it will take time, I believe that it will make me a better lawyer in the process, and I look forward to my continued growth in my clinic “residency.”