This article is written by Anjaly Ann Joseph from Government Law College, Ernakulam.
As soon as you get into law school, you get queries from kith and kin regarding their day to day issues like Motor Vehicle claims, lease agreements and so on. That itself gives a fair idea of the nature of the profession. Even the landmark judgements we study in law schools have risen from the problems of citizens. So these judgement are landmark not just because a legal solution was arrived at but also, it laid down a precedent to similar future cases. New problems continue to pop up. Your success as lawyer depends in finding answers to complex questions and resolving problems. Unfortunately, this skill of problem solving is neglected in educational system, so it is upon individuals-be it lawyers or law students to harness the essential skill of problem solving.
HOW TO BECOME BETTER PROBLEM SOLVERS
The problem solving skill is innate within everyone, but there are only few who expose and develop it. Let us reflect on pointers to hone the skill:
Activities like mooting and debates taught ourselves that, at the end of every conflict, there is a winner and a loser. Also every student comes out of law school with an adversarial mindset. Moreover, common conception is that, everything exist in binaries- white and black, good and evil, right and wrong. These factors make people to think in a small closed box, which leads to the first step to progress, which is getting out of that box. Thinking outside the binaries involves finding more options outside the two sided solutions.
Primarily, listening to clients and understanding what is at stake is important before jumping into conclusions. Then cross checking, if the priorities of the opposing party are actually in conflict as even when two parties are fighting over the custody of a child, splitting the child into two will not make the parties happy. Knowing their expectations from the subject matter, will open up new avenues for conflict resolution. ADR mechanisms work in similar fashion.
Multi-disciplinary problems become a consistent hurdle to the lawyer. Unlike other professionals who are faced with problems in their own fields- as the emerging pandemic headache to health professions, hacking to IT professionals, lawyers are confronted with multidimensional and multi-disciplinary problems that necessitates trenching on different fields and understanding them. So legal acumen is not the sole criteria, adapting it to different fields is crucial. It is rightly said that both lawyers and philosophers should keep an open mind. Steps to develop an open mind:-
Contradict yourself:- As a lawyer, to make strong arguments for your side, anticipating the arguments of opposition is the tool. As a negotiator, contradicting your set of beliefs and opinions will help formulating the advantages and pitfalls on both sides.
Learn/try new things:- Learning never ends for a lawyer. So, it is worthwhile to read voraciously and gain insights on different topics.
Getting out of your comfort zone:- Being vulnerable is a necessary step for evolving. Doing things that are not your area of mastery includes sufficient risk and possibility of mistakes but, it is a part of learning process, and moreover it widens the perspective.
Try to find a middle ground in every issue:- Thinking of middle ground, rather than in binaries is itself a significant achievement. So if finding a middle ground is not plausible, trying to find a middle ground should be given considerable weightage.
There was a time when negotiation was considered a monopoly of management and business professionals but lately, the importance of negotiation for lawyers is a point of great discussion. However, the training for the same is yet to be added into the legal academics. Even in the past, negotiation played a crucial role and it has been a strength of several great lawyers. This skill will come handy for at least negotiating payment.
Rather than persuading the opposite party to your terms, negotiation is about communicating and strategically building consensus. Common tendency among lawyers is forcing their opinions over others .Moreover ,they are stubborn and refuse to budge from their part of the story, even when bested .But negotiation for problem solving requires a co-operative mindset.
It is advisable to keep a time frame for the negotiation process as it has the chance of running to long periods. Moreover it can be used as a stalling tactic by the opposite party.
Steps to better negotiation:-
Knowing your client as well as opponents
Understanding the needs of both the parties
Making initial proposal
Making concessions in initial proposal and demanding reciprocity from the opposite party
Keep a deadline
All lawyers are problem solvers, but good lawyers are creative problem solvers. This skill of problem solving can be inculcated in a person easily by changing a few conventional mindsets. Most incredible lawyers ever seen were jack of all trades. It essentially means that a diverse skill set is required to excel in the profession of law. Problem solving is a mandatory one in that, the riveting legal series hero Harvey Specter can be idolised for his creative problem solving skill. According to Harvey “There is no use looking back on the ifs and buts of the cause of a problem. Cut straight to the point, and get started in thinking of a solution”.
Curated by Shivanshika Samaddar of National Law University, Delhi.