Jan 21 / KC

Is that coffee worth a million dollars?

“Talking Law” N°1 : Is That Coffee Worth a Million Dollars ?

by KC Anderson

It seems everyone has heard about the woman who spilled hot coffee in her lap and successfully sued McDonald’s for millions of dollars. Results like that make the rest of the world wonder what kind of crazy legal structure the U.S. has. The mystery of the jury trial and million dollar damage awards create the image of a court system to be feared.

Over the course of this series, we will try to unravel some of these mysteries. In doing so, you may actually learn some legal English vocabulary and impress your clients and colleagues at the office. However, we can’t promise anything for the accident with your morning coffee. Just be careful. It’s hot.

If Law School is so difficult to get through, why are there so many lawyers ?

If you Google “lawyer joke” you get hundreds of web sites dedicated to jokes about the legal profession. For example, “How can you tell when a lawyer is lying ?” Answer : “His lips are moving.” Or “What is the problem with lawyer jokes ?” Answer : “Lawyers don’t think they are funny and no one else thinks they are jokes.” And you often hear the now infamous Shakespeare quote “ The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. What people don’t realize is that Shakespeare’s immortal words were uttered by a villain whose aim was to destabilize the government. Because lawyers are an integral part of any country’s legal system, lawyers will always be needed and therefore will often be resented by those who have to rely on them to get things done. Let’s take a look at how we create lawyers in the U.S.

Unlike many European countries, the education of lawyers in the United States is a two part process. First the future lawyer has to get a 4 year university degree, called an undergraduate or Bachelor’s degree (BA or BS). Then after taking an examination called the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) you can apply to Law School, which is a graduate school that ordinarily takes 3 additional years of full time studying. The prestigious law schools, like Harvard or Yale are extremely competitive. Only those students with the best grades and test scores have a chance (unless of course you have good family connections). You graduate from law school with a Juris Doctor degree (JD).

A Master of Laws (LLM) is a degree you can seek after you get a JD. It is not very common for American lawyers unless they are planning a practice in tax or patent law. However it is common for lawyers from outside the United States to come to an American law school for an LLM in order to perfect their legal English and gain some experience in the Anglo-American legal system.

But to become a lawyer you need more than just a legal education. In order to call yourself a lawyer and practice law, you have to pass the Bar. You can learn all about that in our next installment.

Great Small Talk Topic :

American Lawyers love to talk about law school and university days, so it is always a good topic for small talk. Often the lawyer will be very proud of his or her old school. The standard question “Where did you go to law school ?” should get them talking. You can add the occasional “really ?” and “that’s interesting” and if they start to slow down you can always ask “Where did you go to undergraduate school ?”.

©2006 KC Anderson

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