We noticed this in law school. The students who did best were not necessarily the brightest, but were instead the ones who put in the time. The ones who plugged away every day, from the beginning of the semester, making sense of the materials in whatever way worked best, routinely outperformed those who may have been quicker on the uptake but put in less productive time getting ready. The trick is not figuring out something that’s hard, but getting on top of something that’s simply massive.
Nathaniel Burney, The Rules of the Game (The Criminal Lawyer blog).
In law school, hard work beats quick thinking. This matches my observation; I wasn’t in the hard-working group. I knew very few people in law school who were both exceptionally smart and very hard-working; “hard-working” became my code for “not particularly bright.” (My hard-working law school friends are judges now, or biglaw partners.)
I have always thought fast on my feet—a core competency for a trial lawyer, and something that can’t be learned—and I test well, which is irrelevant in the real world but helpful in school. So I cruised through high school, got by at Rice (we’re #47! woohoo!), and did reasonably well at University of Houston Law Center; it’s only after starting to practice law that I learned to work hard.
Grades never really mattered to me; and rightly so—I couldn’t be any happier today if I’d gotten an A instead of a B in second-year Contracts. But when I started defending people, I became much more motivated to put in long, productive hours. Having someone’s future, his freedom, and possibly his life depend on one’s being not only sharper but also more familiar with the law and the facts than one’s adversary has, it turns out, a remarkable way of making hard work much more appealing.