I was young, dumb and immature when I decided to go to law school. A college friend had told me that he was applying to law school because there is a lot you can do with a law degree and it was a delay of having to go in to the “real world.” I worked during law school, but as a bartender and in low pressure law firm jobs. I grew a lot during those three years, and it turned out to be a great decision for me even if it was a bit accidental.
Going into law school, I had no idea how the day-to-day learning environment worked. I didn’t know anyone who was in law school at the time, and the internet was just getting started so I didn’t have easy access to information that kids fortunately have today. My expectation was that they were going to teach us laws because on TV and in movies it seems like all the lawyers know what the law is.
The reality is that you are taught about important cases and how the courts work to make those decisions as well as important legal principles such as jurisdiction and evidence. What you aren’t taught are the laws themselves.
The other day, someone called me saying they wanted to discuss a case involving 750 ILCS 5/504. ILCS stands for Illinois Compiled Statutes. So every law in Illinois will have ILCS in the official filing. This particular law deals with maintenance in divorce cases which is something I’m very familiar with. But off the top of my head I had no idea what 750 ILCS 5/504 was referring to and I’d bet almost every lawyer out there would be the same.
This wasn’t a rare occurrence. A month prior someone told me they needed a lawyer familiar with 720 ILCS 5/12-13 because that is what they were charged with. Again, I had no idea what that law was but it turned out to be for criminal sexual assault. Even an experienced prosecutor or criminal defense attorney couldn’t rattle off these statutes and almost surely would have to look it up. I suspect that this person was a bit embarrassed by what they were facing and didn’t want to be blunt until they knew who they were talking to.
It makes sense that attorneys don’t know the law by statute number and it also makes sense that it’s not taught in law school. The laws of every state are different. So if you go to law school in Illinois and they teach you the Illinois Compiled Statutes, what good does that do you if you move to another state? Instead, most of the cases that are taught if not all of them are Federal cases as they take precedent over state cases and apply everywhere in the United States.
Bottom line is that if you quote a statute number to an attorney and they don’t know what it refers to, it’s not a big deal.