“Strike ‘easier’ from your repertoire. Nothing worth doing is easy. Simple, sometimes. Easy? Never.” – Julien Smith and Chris Brogan
Next week, I will spend some time at the annual Kentucky Bar Convention. It has now been five years since I graduated from Salmon P. Chase College of Law. At this time five years ago, I was up to my neck studying for the Kentucky Bar Exam–doing everything I could to commit to memory the Rule Against Perpetuities, the Fertile-Octogenarian Rule, the Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine, and the tiniest exception to the most minor rule of the Uniform Commercial Code among many other things.
For those wondering, the Rule Against Perpetuities states: “Any interest must vest, if at all, not later than 21 years after a life in being at the creation of the interest.” (Yeah, I looked it up.)
Anyway, as I started writing this during the lunch break of my wonderful (and non-law related) job, I prepared a list of the ten positive and practical things my law school and legal world experience taught me about life.
1. Words matter.
Lawyers (or their clerks) write a lot. They spend countless hours preparing just the right language (translation: legalese) to solidify their position in an argument while leaving themselves a sliver of an opening to serve as a loophole should they need it. They interpret and analyze every word of every sentence because they believe if the word is being used, the drafter had a specific intent in placing it on the page (unless they had a general intent). It is important for them to choose their words carefully.
We all have heard the “sticks and stones” adage, and despite understanding its intentions, I disagree with it. Words can tear us down or build us up. They can be used for us or against us. They can sling hate or profess love. People remember what you say AND how you say it. This includes words we say and words we type. So, be careful how you use them because words definitely matter.
2. Research and preparation matter.
Imagine standing before an appeals panel of three very real and very knowledgeable judges to present an argument on behalf of your “client” about why he should be able to have otters as pets despite housing association rules to the contrary and a non-favorable lower court decision stacked against you. You must anticipate the questions they will ask you, know all the law from all the cases that supports your position, and the same to slice and dice your opponent’s position. How helpful do you think research and preparation might be? (I’m being rhetorical here.)
Now place yourself in a conference room with a president, vice presidents, and other executive administrators at the table asking you to defend your report or make a sales pitch. Do you think they will ask you a lot of questions? Do you think you should research and prepare pretty well? I think you get the idea.
3. You will never be as prepared as you want or need to be.
You have read every page of the assigned material (even the FOOTNOTES!). You briefed all of the cases…on your own! You know them so well you could IRAC any issue. Or so you think. Your professor calls on you and starts you down the Socratic Method path to your embarrassment and doom. It starts out well, and slowly facts begin to change. You handle the first couple of changes well. Eventually, there have been so many changes raising so many new issues that you may as well be dealing with a case of first impression.
Sometimes in life, we have everything perfectly mapped out and organized. We know our path, and we are ready. Only a few unexpected surprises come to greet us and our plan no longer resembles its original version. My advice: Hang in there. Do your best. Keep moving forward. It will be over soon.
4. Be on time.
Case loads are huge for practicing attorneys. Law students were up late reading materials and briefing cases (we know THAT is why you were up late) to prepare for the next day’s classes. The docket starts at 9:00AM. Class starts at 10:00AM. And you better be on time. Judges hate to wait or recall a case because an attorney is late or no call/no shows. Some judges may even rule against your motion because of it. Law professors may even lock the door the moment class starts, and not even allow you in. Being late also makes you a prime candidate for that day’s interrogation.
Being on time in life is professional, respectful, and courteous. It makes you look bad when you walk in late to a meeting or miss a sales appointment. I would recommend avoiding the perception as best you can. So don’t be late. (This means you, too, Naveen!)
5. Sleep is important.
If I had to do it all over again, I would (most people are just going to assume that this sentence will be finished with “never have gone to law school”) give myself more time to study and more time to sleep. During finals week, I crammed. I lived at the law school, and if anyone needed me, they knew exactly where to find me: THE WAR ROOM! I operated under the mantra, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
Since then, I have learned the wonders of a full night’s sleep. I feel more energetic, more refreshed, and more efficient, all of which make me more productive. Now, because I value my sleep, I plan and work ahead, which has its own set of healthy rewards. Take it from someone who took sleep for granted. Sleep is important.
6. It’s not about what you have, but how you sell it.
Cases are built around facts. From facts, issues are uncovered. Issues will lead us to the law. The law will hopefully set us free (or help us see enough writing on the wall to settle or cut a deal). All of these things are well and good, but unless we are able to intertwine them through a well-reasoned and convincing story, it may not be enough. We can have evidence and the law on our side, but we must still sell it to the jury, the judge, the court.
Data is at our fingertips in life easier than ever before. It is automated and available to us in abundance. What are we doing with it? How are we using it to notice trends, tell stories, and develop strategies? What is our sales pitch, our message, our model? Without these, data would be meaningless. We all have something meaningful to offer. The trick is selling our story.
7. It is all about relationships.
This lesson became very apparent to me early on, but I am fortunate. I walked away from law school with some of my greatest friends. We talk daily. We give each other a hard time. We play in fantasy sports leagues together. We laugh together. We laugh with and mostly at each other. We have each other’s backs–no questions asked.
Law school and life can be full of overly-competitive, conniving, and even manipulative people. But, if you keep your head in the sand and try to sneak through, you really miss the opportunity to come through the fire with relationships that you would not trade for anything (except Mike Trout).
8. You should never be too busy for those you love.
I will admit it. I struggled with this one (and sometimes still do). You spend your entire day reading the law, writing the law, and studying the law. When you leave school for the day, the last thing on your mind is wanting to talk about the law. Yet, the first question asked by someone on the outside is “How is law school?” It is not their fault. They genuinely care. They are not trying to pry or inconvenience you. They are offering support. You may want to scream, but in reality, you have been doing this all day, so what is a 15 minute synopsis of your week, or even day, going to hurt? (I wish I had been better at this).
We always get too busy for things, too busy for people. That is an easy excuse. Create time. Say no to other things less important than those you love. Sure, they will still be there when you make it through (they do love you after all), but I would rather have them along for the ride.
9. There is not always a right answer.
Go online and search for a sample law school exam question. Take a moment to read the fact pattern (which will appear entertaining as you read and reunite you with some of your favorite cartoon characters or families). Now, read the question and tell me what the right answer is. (HINT: There is not one, and there is not necessarily a wrong answer either.) Even with all of your studying and training, it feels impossible to come up with all the issues and the perfect answer. Professors will tell you any answer is right if you can identify an issue, state the law, and support it with facts.
Life also presents us with wild, convoluted, and discombobulated fact patterns. There is not always a right answer, but there may not necessarily be a wrong one either. The important thing is to analyze the situation carefully, use what you know, and do the best you possibly can.
None of it will be easy, which is alright because…
10. The hard is what makes it great.
You all know the A League of Their Own quote from Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan) to Geena Davis (Dottie Henson) when she is quitting to go home with her husband saying it just got too hard – “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great.”
Law school was hard. It can feel like an intellectual game of Survivor. It can wear you down and make you wonder if you are cut out for it or if you have made the biggest mistake of your life (oftentimes, both). But, receiving that degree and passing the bar exam were some of the most rewarding moments of my life.
Life gets tough, too. It knocks you down a lot (mostly while you are in law school). You feel like giving in and quitting. Maybe I am not good enough or smart enough to be doing what I am doing. You begin to doubt things in all areas. But, somehow some way, we put one foot in front of the other, we make it through, we persevere.
And, in the end, what we learn from those tough moments help us for the rest of our lives.
Bring your best today!