The Key To Being An Effective Lawyer: Asking “What If” Questions

One of the most important qualities of an effective lawyer is a deceptively simple one: knowing what questions to ask. I remember as a first-year associate at a “BigLaw” firm in Orange County, the partner mentoring me emphasized the importance of knowing what questions to ask. He considered it one of his strongest skills as a lawyer. He was right. In particular, asking “what if” questions is paramount to analyzing your case thoroughly.

For example, if you are a trial lawyer, you constantly want to be asking yourself: “what if” this witness testifies, “what if” a witness says this, “what if” the judge does not allow me to introduce this piece of evidence, etc. As a transactional lawyer preparing a contract, you will be asking similar “what if” questions: “what if” this contingency were to occur, “what if” the other party does not perform, “what if” certain things change in the future, etc.

The LSAT tests heavily the skill of being able to recognize “what if” questions, especially in the Logical Reasoning section. Law school final exams do as well. So, for those of you contemplating a career in the law, one of the many questions you may want to consider is: do I enjoy solving problems by thinking through different possibilities and scenarios, and do I like analyzing problems by assessing what might go wrong. In other words, would I enjoy a career that focuses, in part, on frequently asking “what if” questions.