What TV Doesn’t Show You about Being a Lawyer

A courtroom scene from "The Good Wife." Photo credit: Eike Schroter / CBS
A courtroom scene from “The Good Wife.” Photo credit: Eike Schroter / CBS

If you’re a fan of legal dramas like CBS’s “The Good Wife,” then you’re familiar with the flashy side of the legal profession, with trial lawyers striding around the courtroom, engaging in rapid-fire questioning and making moving speeches.

But there’s another side to the legal profession that represents one of the most challenging – although arguably less glamorous – aspects of the field: transactional lawyering.

Transactional law involves negotiating a contract in order to avoid litigation (think prenup, will or real estate transaction). But, while generations of law students have sharpened their litigating skills in moot court and mock trial competitions, students of transactional law have fewer opportunities to put their deal-making abilities into practice.

Karl Okamoto, a professor in Drexel University’s School of Law who teaches a class on transactional lawyering, looked for some way for his students to role-play deal-making on a larger scale than in the classroom. “We discovered that there was no such thing,” he said. “So we thought, let’s build our own.”

In 2010, Okamoto created “LawMeets,” a national competition that puts students’ negotiating skills to the test under the scrutiny of seasoned transactional lawyers who serve as judges.

The response was so overwhelming during the first two years that Okamoto instituted regional meets at law schools across the country.

This year, seven law schools from across the United States hosted 10-12 other schools in regional meets. Next week, the winners of those regional meets will compete in the national competition on April 3 and 4 at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP’s New York office. (The list of participants is available at http://transactionalmeet.lawmeets.com/participants.)

The experience has been invaluable for students.

Casey Plant, one of the winners of the inaugural LawMeet in 2010 who now works at international law firm Allen & Overy in New York, said, “LawMeets was the single best activity I undertook in law school in terms of preparing me for practice.”

“At every interview I had, this was the thing they were most interested in,” said Emily Foote, a 2010 graduate of Drexel Law who participated in LawMeets and now works with Okamoto. “And the reason was that it was so infrequent that law students had actual real-life experience.”

While LawMeets provides a ground-breaking solution to a major problem in the field of legal education, only a few hundred students are able to participate in the experience at its current capacity, while thousands more would benefit from it.

So Okamoto came up with a solution that would give all interested students a chance to hone their skills as deal-makers. He created an online version of LawMeets through an e-learning tool, ApprenNet, which he co-founded with Foote.

LawMeets.com uses crowd-sourcing technology to connect students with seasoned lawyers. Students watch a video presenting a hypothetical client dilemma—such as a question about executive pay—and upload their responses as three-minute videos. Students vote on their colleagues’ recordings and the highest rated videos get critiques from legal experts.

This way, LawMeets’ hands-on, practical learning exercises and expert interaction extends to hundreds and even thousands of law students.

“We all know that the best way to learn most things is to do them yourself,” said Okamoto. And now, thanks to LawMeets, transactional lawyers can.