For law students at Harvard, and across the country thanks to YouTube, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently gave some open advice.
However, the discussion is just informative for lawyers as it is for law students, as Justice Kagan also shares quite a bit about herself, her fellow justices, and how she views the legal profession. The open-ended questions led her onto entertaining tangents too, like how Justice Breyer (who was her antitrust professor when she was a student) is the funniest justice, and his hypotheticals are easily funnier than Scalia's famous retorts, at least in her opinion.
Advice for Law Students
One of the big points that Justice Kagan stressed was making friends with classmates. She explained that she formed lifelong bonds with some of her peers, and that the connections and friends they make now will matter down the road. Even if you're not at Harvard Law, this sounds like good advice.
She further explained that students can expect to learn as much from each other as the faculty. This will ring particularly true given the prevalent use of the Socratic method, which Justice Kagan actually claims to have enjoyed as a student (which might make anyone think twice about taking anything she has to say seriously ever again, since who enjoys the Socratic apart from cruel professors?). About the Socratic method, she explained that it teaches lawyers to think on their feet when being challenged. Also, it gives law students a chance to practice talking like a lawyer.
She also urged the students to try to get to know the faculty and to learn about the professors they find interesting, or the ones teaching the subjects they find interesting. Her words: "Be an active go-getter."
What Does It Mean to Think Like a Lawyer?
When Justice Kagan was asked this question, she evaded it as artfully as any lawyer could have, which in and of itself, provides a nice lesson for the audience. She stumbled a bit, but then let out this evasive marvel: "Everyone has their own version of this -- what's your version?" Then after the moderator gave some mediocre clichéd answer, Justice Kagan came in with some deep insight, explaining that one more critical aspect to thinking like a lawyer involves figuring out the arguments on both sides, and being able to weigh and balance arguments.