A question I get a lot on Quora involves two basic aspects of law practice.
- Do you have to have a good memory to be a lawyer?
- Do lawyers memorize laws?
Lawyers and Good Memories
Lawyers do need to have good memories. Especially litigators. When I handle a case, I have a tendency to memorize the facts and the critical law related to those facts. It isn’t that I set out to memorize these things. It is that I spend so much time with them that they get stuck in my brain. However, I do not rely totally on my memory. It is important to have something that puts everything at the tip of your fingers if you need it. You don’t want to be stumbling in front of hearing officers, judges, juries, or opposing counsel.
Despite my comfort with technology, I use a trial notebook. I have yet to find any technology that replaces a properly tabbed notebook. Yes, I know there are apps and software that supposedly can replace trial notebooks. I don’t find them to do it for me.
You definitely need a good memory for law school. When I was in law school we rarely had an open book exam. This meant that I needed to be able to memorize the applicable rules and laws as well as how to apply them. In addition, you will need to be able to cram a substantial amount of information in your head to pass the bar exam.
Do Lawyers Memorize Laws?
This question comes in two ways. Do we memorize all laws, or do we memorize the laws in the area of practice that we focus on.
The answer to the former question, do we memorize all laws, is no. It is literally impossible for us to memorize all laws. We cannot even begin to know all laws. There are simply too many.
We may memorize laws in a certain practice area, mainly from referring to them over and over again. However, we still check those laws when we need to cite or use them. There are two reasons for this.
- We need to make sure we are remembering the law correctly. A word, the word’s placement, the location of punctuation, cases turn on such things.
- Laws change. Cases are handed down. If a lawyer does not make sure that they are using the most current version of the law and that there are no legal opinions that impact their argument, they may well end up making a serious mistake.
So, in general, the answer to this commonly asked question is that yes, lawyers need to have good memories. Frequently we do memorize laws related to our practice areas. But no, we do not memorize all laws.