You may be under the impression that you have to “think like a lawyer” when confronting legal challenges. But according to Michael Dorf, Professor of Law at Cornell University, there is no such thing – only “clear thinking and confusion.” That said, lawyers do have training to recognize three general types of legal questions:
• Easy questions: These have straightforward, simple answers that you can look up in a book or on a website.
• Complicated questions: These may have determinate answers, but to arrive at them one must first navigate considerable complexity, possibly from various sources of law.
• Indeterminate questions: These questions – whether abstract or applied to a specific situation – have no one right answer, but a range of possibilities.
There is overlap between the categories, with some issues being partially indeterminate, and your question may not have a right answer. That does not mean, however, that there are no clearly wrong answers – because there are some very wrong answers. You can find a range of possibilities within legal materials, but correct answers must be within that range.
Adapted from Michael Dorf’s article, “Distinguishing Among Easy, Complicated, and Indeterminate Legal Questions”