Sunday, November 26, 2006

Awareness

Hello everyone, and thanks to Dean Chen for the invitation to join the page. I'm a recent graduate of the U of M law school and am currently a federal law clerk in Minneapolis.

I thought I'd discuss a favorite topic of mine in my first post: awareness. That is, the trait most absent in the typical law student. I spent three years of law school marveling at the fact that so many smart people could be so completely unaware of what was going around them. What exactly am I talking about? Some examples. The kid who subjects the entire class to an inane observation, tangential anecdote, and 8-part question with a minute left in class. The people in your section who you spent every day with for a year who respond with a blank stare when you say hi to them in the halls. The guy in his stocking feet on his cell phone, jabbering away in the middle of the library. Any of this ringing a bell? If not, guess what--I'm talking about you.

The real issue is, though, why awareness matters. So you have an observation or anecdote or question you think is relevant not only for the professor but for the rest of the class--are you wrong to share it? So you're too focused on work to take note of those around you--is that a crime? So you're in the library so much that you make yourself comfortable--are you hurting anyone? I honestly believe that more often than not the answer is yes. Not because we shouldn't be making the most of our time in law school, in whatever form that takes. But because ultimately law is a profession about more than YOU. More than ME. More than the individual.

As esoteric as the law is to so many, it is, at its core, a service profession. It exists to solve problems. To codify social norms and even prompt societal progress. To help people. And while a miniscule percentage of law scholars may be able to achieve this in the confines of their own minds and the solitude of their offices, the majority of us will use the law in the service of others--our students, our families, our clients. Doing so with any success at all demands awareness. Don't you think?

3 Comments:

Blogger Toonzie said...

Recent graduate of my law school you say? Funny, I have absolutely no recollection of who you are, but for some reason the name sounds vaguely familiar...we must of had a class together or something. Welcome to the club old man! Just please don't use this comment as the basis to make jokes speculating about explanations for my short term memory loss:)

11/27/2006 3:38 PM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

Welcome!

11/27/2006 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Tim Hadley said...

In law school, as you pointed out, many students tune out much of their surroundings to focus on memorizing what they think they will encounter on their exams. They're so focused on minutiae that they are unaware of each other and what seem like basic social norms like appropriate times and places to engage in certain kinds of conversations. They pay more attention to their studies than who is around them.

At least law school comes packaged in semesters that eventually end. But full time law practice can complicate matters further. The work keeps coming (or one becomes hungry). Most law firms require a minimum number of billable hours, and the transition from law school to practice can involve a steep learning curve. Time pressures abound. Employers and clients are in a hurry. Judges are sometimes impatient, and clients trying to close a big deal are almost always so. The urgency of the moment may be backed up by an implied or at least perceived message of "this is what you should be doing, and you must do it or bad things will happen to you" from one's employer. These phenomena can happen even at firms with relatively good rapport and lower billable-hour requirements.

Those factors lay a great trap for those with the ability and tendency to attack problems single-mindedly. If that character trait trips the trap door on the cage, perfectionism may be the trait that locks it shut. Though we all have widely differing mental capabilities, everyone has some limit on the scope and scale of what he or she can manage. Though broader awareness of all one's surroundings makes one both a better human being and a lawyer, intense focus on a particular problem may yield the most immediate short-term return. So one easily gets sidetracked from what is probably the better path for one to take as a human being and a lawyer.

I offer this as a report of observations, of the pressures I have sometimes felt, not an excuse. I haven't mentioned the fact that many people at least claim to get by just fine being relatively single-minded, and some even take pride in it. I suspect there are other related issues, too. And then there's the really important question: What is the therapy for the ailment you described in your post?

Congratulations on your recent passage from law school into the world beyond, from a member of the class of 2002.

11/27/2006 11:50 PM  

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