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August 24, 2009

Litigation: Lawyering, Real Life and a Little Zen.

Keep Your Beginner's Mind. The ability "to think like a lawyer"--what you get in law school and then polish in practice--is at most about 8 percent of what you need to be an effective lawyer. That's right, about 8 percent.*

Legal reasoning. Lots of people finally acquire it. Some are famously better and faster at it than others. A revered M&A lawyer wrote years ago that, at a minimum, it requires the ability to think about something that is "inextricably attached" to something else--but without thinking about that something else 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.

Two pieces of great news: By the age of 25 or so, many of us already have the above skills and orientation. If we do NOT have them, or have ALL of them, we can still get them.

Some important--but maybe not so great news: If you want to do higher end work--and be truly valuable, get that other 92 percent in place as soon as you can. Smart and even brilliant will not cut it. Brilliant people and lawyers with talent out the Wazoo and no organizational skills or discipline is one of the oldest and saddest stories on earth.

These days, and more than ever, training associates and paralegals to be effective and productive ($) quickly is much on the minds of employers. Get competent at all levels of problem-solving, and working at problem-solving with others.


It's still done through mentoring--but you--the "mentoree"--can't be passive. Demand to be trained well--and by someone who knows what they are doing. We're not paying you to take you by the hand, coddle you, or make you laugh. Your problem, younger folks.

Further, 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 The 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. (Not PC but true--get used to it.) 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.

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. Perhaps see Alan Watts.

naughty child–
instead of his chores
a snow Buddha

“Gimme that moon!”
cries the crying

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

(From an earlier post, "Keep Your Beginner's Mind")

*Our blog, our law firm: our numbers.

Posted by JD Hull at August 24, 2009 10:48 AM


Brilliant. So true. "What are you doing later on...?"

Posted by: Ruthie at August 24, 2009 12:27 PM

Excellent. I wish I had written this post.

Posted by: John Day at August 25, 2009 09:19 AM

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