1. Civil Law is more strict than I realized
For those blessed people who are not in law school, civil law is essentially our way of righting wrongs that are not socially repugnant enough to be deemed criminal. Or at least that is the story they tell you. The fact is that many of the things that are 'civil' wrongs are far worse than criminal ones. But then most criminal wrongs that you can easily imagine are just punished with small fines, such as A.I., jay walking, speeding, etc. Technically these are criminal.
So what is Civil Law? Well there is some overlap, but in general it is like this: Things we understand just happen in civil society, but we don't want to lock up the folks who do it. Think drunken fights. If you are a male, you like to drink, and you went to college, it is almost certain that you were either a participant or spectator in a drunken fight. Well lets say one of those dudes gets messed up a bit and needs to go to the hospital. The DA may pursue a criminal charge (if a complaint is filed), he may not. But either way the guy who got the shit knocked out of him can try to get the shit-knocker (often called a tortfeasor) to pay for the bills by suing him for battery. But you know what does NOT protect you in a civil claim?
"I didn't mean to do it"
Too bad. This is the law of negligence. We aren't JUDGING you morally, we're just holding you responsible because you're an ass. Or were temporarily an ass. Doesn't matter. People all the time think they can get out of trouble because they didn't mean to do something (hold this thought, criminal has something to say about that). That is a defense lawyers nightmare in many cases. Hell, admitting you were responsible is basically a death knell for a defendants chances at winning oftentimes.
2. Criminal Law is more philosophical than I thought
Perhaps I was biased when I got here because I had some interesting experiences with the five-o. I basically thought criminal law was just about tossing people in jail, "an eye for an eye" sort of crap. I wanted to do law enforcement or be a prosecutor to bring a more nuanced approach and perspective to certain situations.
But it's already there.
Criminal law (in theory) may be the most theoretical of all legal disciplines. And despite how I felt about my performance on the test, primarily because it was nut stomping hard, I loved the class. If criminal law was any biblical comment, it may be "judge not, lest ye be judged." We care about why someone committed a crime and what they were thinking when they did it. Now that is not to say that there aren't some harebrained prosecutors running around looking for old testament justice everytime a kid gets picked up for having a joint in his pocket, but the theory is very result oriented. Why do we punish? Why do we care what someone thought? Judge Clayton once said to us in a meeting that she had been a lawyer since the early 70s, and a judge for a long time. In all that time, she met "maybe three people" that were just plain evil. Criminal law judges your act, but who you are, the life you have led, and other things ALL matter. I love it.
3. Contracts - The art of boning strangers with pretty, pretty words
I did well in Contracts last semester, and I know I did well this semester. So let me share some wisdom with you:
If you are going to enter into a possibly life altering sort of contract (loans, etc), before you sign it get a lawyer. I REPEAT.....Get...a fucking....lawyer..... Common sense has no place in Contracts. It is about judicial economy and efficiency in the market. You have no idea what you are signing. How do I know? I led several study groups on the matter, got good grades in the class, and even received booze from fellow students for aiding them. And I still don't know SHIT. If you bring me a question about a contract (or anything legal pertaining to your personal life for that matter) I might slap you. Find a lawyer. A good. Find someone who is a transaction specialist and they could save you from a terrible deal, or find one that is fantastic.
4. Lawyers CANNOT get your dumbass out of everything
Some things are so clear cut against you that guess what, your dumbass is up a creek. Lawyers are officers of the court. Not the court itself. When someone walks in to a lawyers office and says,
"Hey man, I went to work right? And I got high there, and may or may not have driven my delivery truck into a group of school children and then they fired me....But hey look, I think they may have discriminated against me...."
People make a big deal out of the "Johnnie Cochran" type of lawyers. Yeah, that is overblown. No lawyer wins every case, and you know why? Because not every CLIENT is a winner. A great lawyer can maybe cut you a better deal or something, but not win. Guess what? You shoot a police officer in the face on video because he pulled your drunk ass over and didn't want to deal with him? It doesn't matter if your defense panel is Atticus Finch, Matlock, Perry Mason, and Jesus Christ, you are GOING TO GO to jail.
"But John, what about all those folks who get off on procedural stuff?" That is not because someone has a great defense attorney. It because either the authorities who brought them in, the judge, or the prosecutor is/are idiot(s). An average attorney can pick up on obvious problems with process etc.
5. Brace for the hate
Lawyers have some unfortunate stereotypes, and for the most part I believe that these stereotypes are not deserved. But that is not the only thing that is going to slam up against us. A person that I briefly knew posted a story about how the Supreme Court overturned someone's sentence for selling dog fighting videos. The story seemed to indicate that the reason the court did not uphold the man's sentence was because of the first amendment. I didn't think that this was the whole story, so I found the actual opinion issued by the court. The court really overturned his sentence due to the poor wording in the statute, which 8 of the Supreme Court justices thought had the possibility to end up giving people who distributed images of animal cruelty worse punishments than the offenders themselves. In other words, their reasoning may have been based in protections of free speech, but the HOLDING itself did not even mention the first amendment. I weighed in on her wall, and said that it was probably a temporary setback for the dog-fighting issue due to the statutory problem. I assure you I did this in a very respectful way.
Her response was to say "thank you" and then point out that just because she was not in law school did not mean she was not aware of that (I suppose she has access to Westlaw), and that "[she] did get into law school, I chose not to go." And then she said that she was just expressing her opinion, and didn't have to agree with the court (which I didn't say she did), which was what the case was all about, the First Amendment (which it wasn't, incidentally, it was the guys ticket into court but barely played a role). She then posted a status about being tired of people insinuating that teachers were stupid. Wow. Can I have a serving of self righteous indignation with a side of sanctimony? I have related this incident to two lawyers, who both said that in so many words, it's only the tip of the iceberg.
Here is the difference between the Law and something like Medicine. Most of the general public does not think they know anything about medicine, with the exception of holistic medicine folks etc. But almost every asshole walking down the street thinks that they know the law. If your none law school friends start talking about the law, and they are wrong, be careful about weighing in. Both of the lawyers I told about this said that unless you are invited in, you will almost definitely get accused of thinking that they are stupid. And it doesn't matter if they are wrong. And I mean like, Glenn Beck wrong.
6. I couldn't have made a better choice
I seriously love it here. And I would recommend law school to anyone....Anyone who doesn't mind your entire grade being one test or paper, doesn't need professors constantly telling you how smart you are, don't mind looking like a dangerous retard in front of your classmates at least once a semester, likes beer, hates sleep, loves debt, and knows how to look like you're paying attention while you space out. Oh yeah, and if you want to make a difference in the world while making good money, this is a good choice too.