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February 02, 2009

Keep your Beginner's Mind.

naughty child–
instead of his chores
a snow Buddha

“Gimme that moon!”
cries the crying
child

--by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue (and our heartfelt thanks to DG).

The ability "to think like a lawyer" is about 10% of what you need to be an effective lawyer. Lots of people finally acquire it. Some are famously better and faster at it than others. A revered Skadden M&A partner wrote years ago that, at a minimum, it requires thinking about something that is "inextricably attached" to something--but without thinking about that something to which it's attached.

Legal reasoning is critical--but it's never enough by itself to become an outstanding lawyer. The rest is frame of mind: energy, ambition, organization, logistics-sense, re-thinking everything all the time, a take-charge orientation, genuine people skills, and an urgent passion to solve tough problems. If you think you want to be a litigator or trial lawyer, you will also need Very Tough Hide--something which you can learn the hard way.

Finally, no matter what, you need Will, and Big Ones.

Almost all of students we have interviewed in the last five years made law review, and will graduate at the top of their class. Again, not enough. Lawyers need to learn to think and act on their own from the first day. You need the traits listed above. Think of it as an inside job.

If you are new, "steal our clients", please. Be that good. That will take a while. While you are learning, please understand that you are getting more than you are giving. You don't know much. So it's not unreasonable for us to ask you to try to do perfect research, editing and proofreading.

But we love your ideas, your first impressions, and the trick is to be confident enough to ask dumb questions and make comments. Often, your first impressions or "reactions" to a problem or project are very good--but we don't always hear them right away.

So maybe read Alan Watts. Or at least read a lot of David Giacalone at f/k/a..., an HLS grad who really gets it. Think of David as your spiritual leader and technical adviser in one person. Read, for example, his "Phoenixes and Beginner’s Mind". Keep reading him.

You may not know at first very much law, or how to apply it to facts for a fee, and then give the "right advice". But you have instincts evolving all the time--they have little to do with law school--that may surprise you. You had them all along.

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Posted by JD Hull at February 2, 2009 02:31 PM

Comments

I want to underscore the importance of being willing to ask questions when you need clarification, even if it might make you look ignorant or silly, and to offer comments when a notion is presented that seems a bit out of whack. They require confidence in yourself and trust in your boss or colleagues, and they are among the most valuable assets that a junior member of a team or an advisor can offer a decision-maker or manager.

Leaders worthy of the role want questions and feedback from the bright people they've hired. If you're not sticking your neck out frequently with questions or comments, you're not doing your job, or you think your job is neither challenging nor important.

Posted by: david giacalone at February 2, 2009 12:18 AM

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