101 Things I Learned in Law School

by Vibeke Norgaard Martin with Matthew Frederick

Vibeke Norgaard Martin is a lawyer who has practiced commercial litigation and civil rights law. She has also taught law at U.C. Berkeley. Here are some of her insights on how to think like a lawyer.

“Honesty and truthfulness are not the same thing. Being honest means not telling lies. Being truthful means actively making known the full truth of a matter. Lawyers must be honest, but they do not have to be truthful… Counsel may not deliberately mislead the court, but has no obligation to tell the defendant’s whole story.”

“In civil law nations, the main source of law is legislation, and courts are bound by statutes.” The civil law system is prevalent in Continental Europe and its former colonies. “Courts in common law nations are also generally bound by statutes, but more significantly they create new law—called common law or case law—through their decisions in specific cases. They also have the power to find a statute unconstitutional.” The common law system is prevalent English-speaking countries. “All U.S. states except Louisiana have a primary heritage in English law.”

“Stop talking when you’ve made your point. Begin and end every argument or talking point with the thing you most want the listener to note or remember.”

The author explains two types of contract misunderstandings. “Unilateral mistake: One party is in error as to a contract’s terms or subject matter. The contract usually will be upheld by the court. Mutual mistake: Both parties are mistaken as to the meaning of a contract term…. Courts usually will find the contract was never formed and therefore will not enforce it.”

“Invoking the Fifth Amendment in a criminal trial prevents self-incrimination. Invoking it in a civil trial may induce self-incrimination. Amendment V to the U.S. Constitution grants citizens accused of a crime the right to remain silent to avoid incriminating themselves. Witnesses in a civil trial may invoke this right only if a statement might implicate them in a crime for which prosecution is possible. The court and jury are usually entitled to make an adverse inference against a civil witness who does so.”

The book provides a good selection of concepts for prospective law students and others interested in how the legal system works. The title not only refers to the number of items presented, but is also a word play (intentional or not) on the introductory course number Law 101.

Martin, Vibeke Norgaard, and Matthew Frederick. 101 Things I Learned in Law School. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2013. Buy from Amazon.com

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