Monday, February 26, 2018

Expect Struggles. Decide How to Respond.

Can you remember the first time trying a new sport or hobby?  Do you remember how it felt to be terrible and completely fail at first?  I can easily remember my first summer playing golf.  I started playing while in college at a 9 hole, short, play all day course.  I spent round after round searching for my ball hundreds of yards away from my target.  The joy was finally getting one near where I was aiming, but I only remember a few of those shots.  More often, I vividly remember shots where my beautiful swing perfectly compressed the ball straight into a tree to ricochet over my head and behind me.  I am now on my 14th year playing golf, and my current experiences are only marginally better.  My 7 year old can beat me from his tee box on most days.

I didn’t expect, nor do I expect now, to be Jordan Spieth just because I played sports throughout my life.  However, I see many students with unrealistic expectations coming in to law school.  The expectation is that legal study is similar to all other forms of education, so success in prior experiences means success should happen in law school.  When final exams don’t go as expected, some students’ motivation decreases and a cycle of poor performance ensues.  My hope is to change that expectation and promote treating law school like any other sport or skill.  Failing now is critical to success as an attorney.

Law School and Undergraduate study are as similar as baseball and golf.  Baseball and golf are sports where a person swings and hits a ball.  However, the technical motion of the wrists, hips, shoulders, etc. tend to be very different in the swings.  Athleticism transfers, but the specific skills are different.  Law study does require understanding vast amounts of information, recalling it on an exam, and studying like Undergraduate study.  The specific skills are very different.  The self-regulation of additional work, applying learned information to new hypotheticals, and the lack of many assessments make law school a different kind of academic endeavor. Legal analysis requires deductive and inductive reasoning.  Many times, undergraduate exams require memorization and recitation.  Deep reasoning is much more difficult.  There is a reason Bryce Harper (professional baseball player) isn’t also a professional golfer.  Different skills must be developed to succeed at a new endeavor.

The above analogy is helpful for entering students, but why should most students think about it now?  Now is the time to remedy problems from the fall to achieve a higher level of success.  Many famous sports figures will say failure is how they learned what was necessary to succeed.  The recent Gatorade commercial is a great example.  Don’t let failing to meet expectations decrease motivation.  Previous study skills are different than what is necessary for law school.  Treat law school the same as any other activity that you started new.  Don’t expect to be the greatest or best the minute the doors open.  Legal study and legal analysis are specific skills that must be developed and nurtured over many years to become proficient.  Don’t let one semester derail a dream, especially since each semester adds more information necessary for the bar. 

Using failure to continually improve is a life skill.  All law firms expect fifth year associates to be better than first year associates.  Firms care as much about the ability to improve as how much law someone remembers from law school.  Now is the time to learn how to improve.  Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team in his first attempt.  Jordan Spieth didn’t win the US Kids Golf World Championship as a teenager.  Tom Brady was a late (extremely late) round pick in the NFL draft and couldn’t beat out Drew Bledsoe for the starting QB job his rookie year.  Success isn’t determined by where you start.  Success will be determined by how you respond.

(Steven Foster)

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