Many folks studying for the LSAT reach a point of frustration with the test and wonder whether what they're learning really has anything to do with the practice of law. The short answer is absolutely. The long answer can touch on a wide variety of connections between the test and the practice of law, from issues of stamina and character to those of strategy and logic. For today's post, I thought I'd offer some examples of how the concepts you're learning while studying for the LSAT will show up in your life as a practicing attorney.
One of the concepts students often struggle with initially is how to diagram conditional statements containing the word "unless." If you've read our materials, you know we simplify these statements by using an approach we call the Unless Equation. Chances are you probably didn't give "unless" statements much attention until you bumped into one deciphering the reasoning in a stimulus or linking conditional rules in a logic game.
But the law is chock full of "unless" statements, as a search of the Virginia Code makes clear. A search of the Code for the word "unless" returns 6,733 references in 4,918 documents. Intrigued by this result I checked out California's code. That search returned 15,109 references!
I took from this search two things. First, there are just way too many laws. Second, we love to make exceptions to the laws we pass. Any way you cut it, understanding how to process an "unless" statement definitely is relevant to your future practice of law.
The idea of relevance itself is something you'll need to understand well if you become a trial lawyer. One of the most frequently made objections during a trial is to the relevance of the offered evidence, just like relevance is a frequent objection to answer choices on the LSAT.
As to the LSAT, when you hear someone describe an answer choice as being "out of scope," what they typically mean is that it's irrelevant. In a Must Be True question, it could be a fact not present in, or inferable from, the stimulus. In an Assumption question, it might be an answer choice that isn't necesssary for the conclusion to be valid because it isn't relevant to the conclusion in the first place.
In the courts, questions of relevance are probably even more pervasive. An example is Federal Rule of Evidence 401, which provides that "[e]vidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." By the way, did you notice the mutiple necessary conditions in that rule?
How about language from the 2013 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in United States v. Sterling, an appeal of pretrial evidentiary rulings in the case of a former CIA agent indicted for espionage after he allegedly disclosed to a reporter information about a classified operation relating to Iranian nuclear weapons? One of the issues there was whether the trial court should have granted the government's motion to force the reporter to testify as to the identity of his confidential source. To force the reporter to testify, the government had to show the subpoenaed information was "highly material and relevant, necessary or critical to the maintenance of the claim, and not obtainable from other available sources." (Page 98 of the PDF linked above)(emphasis added).
These are just two of the ways the concepts you're learning now will come in handy later. These concepts pop up everywhere in the law. So remember, this isn't just LSAT preparation. You're suiting up for your legal career.
Image attribution: Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons