False Dichotomy “A situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.”

I keep hearing that one of the main problems with legal services is your typical lawyer’s proclivity to spot issues rather than solve problems.  Paul Lippe has even called issue spotting “Innovation Enemy No. 1.”  As law schools around the country look at revising their curriculums, there is a lot of pressure to de-emphasize issue spotting in favor of problem solving.  One law school has even gone so far as to say its mission is to create problem solvers, and in support of that mission, has established a Center for Creative Problem Solving.

I see the debate around issue spotting vs. problem solving as a false dichotomy; namely, it isn’t a choice of one or the other.  Rather, you need both skills coupled with a number of others in order to be an effective lawyer.

When I’m asked by someone considering law school what the practice of law involves or what makes a good lawyer, I typically answer by describing the following five steps or skills in working with clients:

5 Legal Tools

I think the above skills are the basic “tools” needed by any lawyer.  For those of you who are baseball fans, you are probably familiar with the “five tool player” concept in that sport (i.e., the ability of a player to have all of the skills a baseball scout looks for — hit for power, hit for average, field, throw and run).  To me, the above five skills comprise what I would call a “Five Tool Lawyer”.

Just as there isn’t a lot of opportunity in baseball for players whose only skill is hitting (probably just as a designated hitter in the American League), there isn’t a lot of opportunity in law for lawyers who can only spot issues.  But conversely, just as there aren’t a lot of opportunities for baseball players who can’t hit (probably just pitchers, or maybe just pitchers in just the American League), there aren’t a lot of opportunities in law for lawyers who can’t spot legal issues.

If you aren’t a baseball fan and I have lost you, perhaps a doctor analogy might resonate more.  Imagine a doctor who knew how to creatively solve a host of medical problems, but had no ability to gather information from the patient or spot an underlying medical condition in the first place. If that doctor was the only physician on your team, you would have a big problem. Conversely, a doctor who spots every medical condition but who has no clue as to how dangerous those conditions might be or how to cure those conditions, wouldn’t be your ideal choice either.

As we push our law schools to reform their curriculum and better prepare students for the practice of law, we might be better off avoiding false dichotomies like issue spotters vs. problem solvers.  Maybe the time has come to start focusing on creating more Five Tool Lawyers.

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