If you meet an attorney claiming to know THE LAW, find a different attorney.
There are many misconceptions in the world of lawyers and law stuff. A great many. One of the most prominent is the mistaken belief that just because someone has a law degree and has passed a bar exam that person knows “THE LAW“ and therefore is an expert in all legal stuff. Such is neither realistic nor even possible. To explain, let me share a few “secrets” relating to law school and life as an attorney.
Secret #1: Law school is NOT about learning THE LAW. Rather, law school is first and foremost an exercise in endurance. It is a three-year marathon designed to weed out the casual student who is not willing to pay the price, to read stacks and stacks of case books and take part in countless hours of classes taught via the Socratic method. More than learning substance, the teaching and learning are focused on learning the methods and techniques of lawyers (logic, analysis, and application of laws to fact scenarios).
Secret #2: THE LAW is…well, I am not sure what that means. I have had people ask me questions about THE LAW and tell me that I needed to educate another person or business about THE LAW. However, in each such instance, what was intended by such persons was for me to produce an irrefutable argument or irrevocable and irresistible application of legal doctrine that would benefit the position and interest of such person (i.e. they want it their way, and they presume that somehow THE LAW could be made to serve their purposes). Such persons invariably choose to believe in such situations that THE LAW is an all-powerful protection of what they want, in that particular situation, and that it was my job as the attorney to conjure up THE LAW to be used for such purpose (almost as a magician would use a spell for the desired outcome). The reality, in each such case, is that such persons were engaged in wishful thinking, convinced by the decibels of their self-talk that believing something very strongly somehow equates to a truth that is congruent with THE LAW.
Secret #3: There is no such thing as THE LAW. Rather, there are a great many laws. Some of these are statutory (i.e. written and passed by legislatures), some are regulatory, and some are judge-made laws (also known as case-law). Within each of these larger categories of laws are countless subcategories of laws which are constantly changing and evolving, even on a daily basis in some instances. Further, laws are written and applied differently in different geographical areas and can even have different applications within the same geography, depending on other circumstances. So completely vast, varied and ever-changing are the laws that can have reign over you and me on a daily basis (not to mention our employment, our property, our business interests, our leisure and our loved ones), that even the all-knowing resources of Google and Wikipedia are very often ill-informed and outdated within moments of publication and online search. Bottom line–THE LAW is a nonsensical concept, and anyone who tells you that he or she knows THE LAW (speaking globally and on an all-encompassing perspective) is just plain silly, crazy or dishonest. A good attorney will be wise enough to recognize these things and will educate himself or herself as to the applicable laws relevant situation and then apply those laws to such facts and circumstances.
Secret #4: (closely related to Secret #3) A good attorney is not useful because he or she knows everything (including all aspects of the law), but rather, you pay an attorney for legal analysis, which means the application of your particular facts and circumstance to one or several statutes, court decisions, governmental regulations and the like. This ability to think logically and apply legal doctrines to facts and circumstances is the very essence of attorney work. This is also a substantial part of the three-year law school experience. As I was once told (just before starting law school) by a seasoned judge, law school is about teaching an individual to think like a lawyer. This skill of legal analysis and application of facts to law begins in law school, and attorneys continue to refine and improve this vital skill over the course of years of law practice.
Secret #5: In the sphere of legal analysis and application of legal concepts to facts and circumstances, there are common themes and fundamental concepts which often repeat in similar situations. For example, a group of partners who are seeking to start a new business venture will want to consult with a competent business law attorney who has previously advised others starting businesses. Why? Because even though the people are very different each time, and the business being formed this time may be different than any other business ever formed, some fundamentals will remain the same across transactions.
By analogy, if you are going to build a custom house, you will want to hire a general contractor who has previously built many homes. The contractor and his subs will use their experience and expertise in making sure your unique home has a solid foundation, the walls are framed square, the roof is installed to keep out the rain and snow, etc. The builders will thereby use their knowledge and experience to build your custom-house in a manner such that it will be your unique home, but at the same time be “up to code” and built with sound and time-tested principles.
Likewise, experience counts when you are looking for an attorney. Such is not to say that unless someone has practiced for a decade or more, they are unqualified to give you sound legal advice. Of course, that is not true. Even so, if you are involved in a complex leveraged buyout transaction involving millions of dollars, you likely would not want to engage an attorney who passed the bar last week.
To summarize, attorneys don’t study THE LAW in law school, and they are not trained to know THE LAW. Rather, attorneys are trained to think like lawyers and through their legal careers, they “practice” this skill (pun intended, as we refer to it as the “practice of law”). If you are want to know what about the wording of Utah Code 75-7-1013, Google can help you–you don’t need an attorney to get a copy of that law. On the other hand, if you want to understand what that statute means and how it applies to you and your estate plan, you should seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney.