Getting teased about “practicing until you get it right” can feel like an insult. So why is it called a law practice anyway?
Etymology of Practice
Practice means the practical application of specialized knowledge. The derivation is from the Greek verb πράσσω /prasso, meaning to achieve, bring about, effect or accomplish. From there we get to Greek adjectives πρακτική /praktike and πρακτικός /praktikos meaning practical, fit for or concerned with action.
Practice was first used to refer to a profession in Old French and Latin around 1400. The word usually referred to medicine, but also law, alchemy and magic. Rather than referring to an amateur, since the mid-sixteenth century to call someone “practiced” has meant they are an expert.
You may have even used the couplet “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive.” This rhyme appears in “Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field,” a Tudor-era romance by Sir Walter Scott, published in 1808. “Practice” here means using one’s skills to lie.
We Do Practice — Every Day
Admit it. You’re a better lawyer now than you were when you started out. As you saw more cases and learned better people skills, you practiced law at a higher level. Certainly, before you refer a case, you seek out the lawyer with the most relevant experience, not someone who is less than expert.
Your day-to-day experience raises your level of knowledge in many ways. When you research, you browse information that may not be pertinent to the current search but teaches you more about this area of law. When presented with a new issue, how many times have you thought, “I think I saw a case about that” because you came across it while looking for something else?
Keeping abreast of developments is also part of your practice. When you keep up with new statutes and case law, when you read journals and newsletters, and when you attend continuing legal education programs, you are practicing for when you can apply that knowledge.
Even the Greatest Practice Daily
Basketball legend Michael Jordan worked out for five to six hours every day during his professional career. Great musicians practice every day, not because they can’t get it right, but to continually do a better job of getting it right. At the height of his fame, cellist Pablo Casals (1876–1973) said he still practiced six hours a day “because I think I’m making progress.”
The next time someone seems to be belittling your expertise by saying you have to practice to get it right, you can respond:
The greatest musicians and athletes practice their skills for hours every day, and so do I. We do it to produce the best results to benefit you.
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