Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Bar Review begins this week; Seize this moment as a Opportunity

So proud of all my students. It’s hard to dig in, after graduation, and get ready for yet another exam. But, this is the last one. And, it’s so worth all the effort.

You CAN do this. You can pass the bar exam. Dig in and embrace bar review. It is an opportunity to get to do this kind of intense learning.

Don’t view it as torture or hazing.  Throw yourself in.  Think of the bar exam as a photo that right now is blurry and out of focus.  But each week as you get closer to the exam, you learn more and more, you refine your knowledge and your command of each subject, and that blurry photo comes more and more into focus.  By July it will be crystal clear.

July is your exam to pass!

PS. I know I wrote about this days ago, but I just learned of a dear friend — a beautiful, vibrant, smart, and talented college grad whose life was taken from her at age 22.  If there is a lesson in this loss it is to make the most of every moment we have.  Don’t view study as torture.  Don’t waste a moment feeling bitter, or angry, or sad.  Embrace the studies.  Learn all that you can. And, know that you are on a road to not only do well but do good.  Your future is bright. Embrace it!

“I respectfully disagree.” Being Nice Pays Off.

Being nice pays off.  (Maslin Nir, NY Times 4/17/2017) .  When we disagree profoundly with others, especially about existential or deeply personal issues, it can be hard to be nice.  With college campus issues surrounding free speech swirling, complex issues albeit, how about we start by encouraging students (and all of us) to learn to disagree, politely and respectfully?  It is not easy or always intuitive to disagree politely, especially when issues run to the core of one’s values.  So we have to practice, in and outside of the classroom.

I have been thinking about this lately because I am considering adopting ground rules for classroom dialogue –wanting to encourage students to critique each other but at the same time insisting they do so thoughtfully and in a civil manner.  Can we all practice that?  Can we train ourselves and, professors, can we train our students, to re-phrase our words to “respectfully dispute” the other’s points?   The key is this –dispute the other’s points, while remaining respectful of the other him or herself.

Sometimes, having a stock phrase in our heads that we can call up in tense situations helps us to pause, take a breather from the temptation to overreact, and instead to choose a thoughtful reaction –in some instances, choosing to remain silent and just letting the other air his or her views without reply.  (Note: I was reminded of the importance of civil discourse and of sometimes just remaining silent in a recent and most thoughtful sermon given by Rabbi Andrew Jacobs.)

What do I mean by stock phrases?   Here are examples.  I know, they are a silly, but they are catchy on purpose, for easy recall.  And, remember, you can say them, or they can serve as internal tools to keep them in your own head to remind yourself to pause before reacting.

  • “You engage, you enrage.”  A wise lawyer gave this advice to certain clients involved in terribly tense litigation: “Keep this phrase in your back pocket so that we can work together to diffuse and resolve the situation.”  Essentially, she was saying “don’t add fuel to the fire.”  She urged her clients to simply say to themselves, “You engage you enrage” every time they were tempted to even speak directly to the opposing party, and thus to help them hold their tongues.  [Note: most litigants can still sit together to work out settlements, even in tense litigation, but occasionally, things have just gone too far and parties must let all “oxygen” out of the situation for the fire to subside.]
  • “I respectfully disagree.”  Just using that phrase as a preface, especially if you follow it with a deliberate pause, can disarm the person you are disagreeing with, and buy you a moment to reflect and choose your next words more carefully than had you simply blurted back a retort.
  • “That is a very interesting point.”  We all know this as the hedging comment that often means “You are way off.”  But it doesn’t have to be dismissive or rude.  And, remember, this post is about phrases you can say or keep in your own head.  If you say it aloud, mean it genuinely.  (Even blatantly offensive comments can be interesting.  ‘Why did this person just say that?  What is behind the remark?’)  Think about how just that one line can diffuse a situation. You can shorten this to simply nodding to acknowledge you have heard the other, saying nothing aloud, and murmuring “Interesting, interesting” to yourself in your own head while you decide what if anything to say in response.
  • “I need to think about that for a bit.”  This is a stock phrase to say aloud to buy yourself time.  (Of course this is not an appropriate apply to a blatantly immoral comment.  But in many situations that could otherwise escalate because of a reaction, it can be entirely appropriate and useful.)
  • “People are for hugging, not for hitting.”  OK, this last one is ridiculous right?  Let me put it in context.  This phrase was given to parents of toddlers who were in a stage where they hit, pulled hair, bit, etc.  To avoid getting angry and yelling at the child, or worse, parents who mechanically but calmly recited this refrain bought themselves a moment to gather their thoughts and decide upon an appropriate response or consequence.

The bottom line, respectful discourse as we see on a daily basis is not intuitive and perhaps it has ceased to be the norm.  All the more reason to train ourselves, our students, and our children to engage in thoughtful, civil dialogue, and to know how to disagree with someone’s views without attacking the person we disagree with.  Stock phrases can be useful tools in this endeavor to encourage civil discourse.

If you have “stock phrases” you use to create a “thought pause” in tense situations, please comment so I can share them with readers.

 

 

Reach out to Mentors, Especially While You Are in School

A colleague told my students to go to observe court proceedings, and introduce themselves to judges. He said that most judges love to speak with and advise students (while they are still in school and still “cute”).  Ironically, just days after my colleague’s remarks, a  judge friend of mine offered to speak in my class. Without any sort of compensation, simply out of his generosity of spirit, this judge drove hours to give of his time to a group of future lawyers.

A few days ago I read that the great drummer Charlie Watts, visited students at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. According to the University of Miami News and Events, “Watts, one of the founding members of the Rolling Stones, spent an hour afterward graciously talking one-on-one with students, posing for selfies and photos, and talking shop about drum gear, life on the road, and his love of jazz.” http://news.miami.edu/stories/2016/03/rolling-stones-legend-jams-with-frost-students.html  I can’t imagine a greater honor for any music student!

If there is anyone you are interested in talking with, anyone whose life or work you want to learn more about, try. Ask to meet someone for coffee, or invite an accomplished person to come speak to your class. The worst someone can say is that he or she is busy. And, you would be surprised at how many super stars (famous or otherwise) would be delighted to share their experience and wisdom.

The Power of Peers: Network with those who are a year or two ahead of you.

In school, it can be most helpful to talk with –and network with– those who are just a year or two ahead of you in school. For juniors or seniors in college, and for 2L and 3L law students, talking to recent graduates can give you a leg up on what to expect, and how best to prepare for success. If someone survived freshman year successfully, they may have great advice for you who are now in your first year.

Why?  There’s a good chance, you are not the first person to struggle with whatever challenges you are currently facing.  And, a peer who is just a slight bit ahead of you may seem more credible than a professor who may have been where you are decades prior.  (I happen to believe that with age comes wisdom and thus seeking advice from those who are much older can be tremendously valuable.  But I do understand that many of my students find recent graduates particularly credible.)

I sponsor an Alumni Speaker Series in a number of my classes, hosting recent graduates to come back and share their bar exam and professional challenges, and wisdom.  Their stories help current students see what troubles may be lurking and provides advice on how to avoid the pitfalls and potholes in the road just ahead.

Recent graduates empower current students to believe that they too can navigate the rough waters and prevail.

If your have formal opportunities to meet and network with recent graduates seize them.  Ask questions!  Make your own plans based on what you hear worked and did not work for others.  Do adjust the advice of others to fit your own needs.  (“One size does not fit all” in life, law, or college.)  But, do listen.  Why repeat mistakes that just spending a few minutes hearing someone else might help you avoid?

If there are no formal opportunities, go on your own and seek out recent graduates or students in classes ahead of you.  Ask your ASP faculty or your favorite professor or Dean for the names of recent graduates they would recommend you talk with.  Ask a former leader of an organization you belong to, to sit and share his/her experiences.  Talk with someone who has just started working in a field that interests you.

And, be sure to send a Thank You after meeting with someone.  You will be surprised at how your networking opportunities expand your current successes and your potential for success in the future!

Success is built by slow and steady hard work, not miracles.

Yesterday, I posted about the tortoise and the hare in connection with bar exam study and success. (http://www.passlaw.com/taking-the-july-2016-bar-exam-think-tortoise-and-hare/).  Today, thinking about how that bar exam advice applies in so many other places. Here are just a few:

-Mastering a sport, or an artistic talent.  Sure, natural ability helps.  But ask any determined, successful athlete or actor just how many times he or she made a mistake, got back up, and built their success, slowly and steadily, and you will find that nature was greatly assisted with practice. This Michael Jordan quote comes to mind, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

-Getting into a good college.  This is a process –slow and steady.  For many people, it involves years of building a background worthy of being accepted into a great university: years of studying for classes and pursuing good grades; years of participating in (and serving as a leader in) student groups; months if not years of studying for admissions tests; weeks if not more of working to write effective entrance essays and complete complex applications.

-Building a Successful Professional Identity.  This does not happen the day you get your first job, or the day you become a college graduate or a lawyer. This involves years of proving oneself, showing colleagues by coming through day in and day out successfully, proving that you are reliable and smart, networking, publishing, speaking or otherwise publicly demonstrating your skills or ideas, and much more.

-Raising children. This is surely a slow and steady endeavor, with a need to be there, every day –strong and consistent, to provide, nurture, and support.

There is no shortcut for most great things in life. Pete Seeger’s Maple Syrup Song perhaps sums it up best: “Everything worthwhile takes a little time….”

Do you have a five-year plan? A one-year plan?

In Chapter 2 of PASS The Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals, I wrote about developing your Plan for Success.  That plan for success, I said, starts with looking at the timeline of what must happen between where you are now and your goal in order to achieve what you desire.

I wrote about how to get the most out of every step on your way to achieving your goal –sorting out what is critical and what may be distracting.  The choices you make along the way can make achieving your goal much easier or much more difficult.

Then, after looking at that big-picture timeline, I recommend drilling down and looking at two months prior to achieving your goal, and taking a week-by-week snapshot. Often times where people get derailed or give up is just prior to achieving success.  Those last few weeks are critical.

 

A mentor of mine once suggested that at all times, one should have a one-year plan (with one or more goals), and a five-year plan.  I have taken this advice to heart myself and talked with many of my students about the same.

As a college student, law student or graduate student, it’s fairly easy to develop these plans around your curriculum while you are in school.  At the beginning of school, when you start in your first year, your longer term plan may be to graduate from the program of study doing your very best. But, do you stop and look at each year, one year at a time?

If not, I urge you to give it a try.  What do you want to accomplish each year of school?  (If you are having difficulties setting these goals, picture yourself one year from now talking with someone who asks you how last year when and what you accomplished.  What will make you happy to look back on and describe for that person?)  Do you want to be able to say:

  • You got good grades,
  • You were accepted for a certain internship,
  • You volunteered for a cause you believe in,
  • You networked (made lifelong friends with classmates, got to know professors, met professionals in the field you intend to pursue).

Then, consider a five-year plan.  Where would you like to be working?  What work environment would you like to be in?  What would you like your personal life to be like?  Do you have health or fitness goals?  Do you have community service goals?

A well-known driving safety tip is to keep your eye both on the immediate road ahead and at the same time on what is in the distance and surroundings ahead.  The same principle applies in goal-setting and achieving success.  Focus on today.  Knock off as much as you can on today’s To Do list.  But develop both a one-year and a five-year plan.  Even if they change radically (which is fine as unforeseen opportunities may come into your path at any moment!) it will still help you steer the vehicle that is you safely and successfully toward your destination.