Hard Work and Quick Thinking


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.


One response to “Hard Work and Quick Thinking”

  1. I know you’re right, but I’m still a crammer. I generally do the vast majority of work on a case right when I get it and then right before trial. After I become familiar with the facts, index everything, send out any needed investigation and figure out what motion work is needed (generally in my office, someone else does the motion work unless its very fact intensive), the case just kind of sits there. I have my strategy and, of course, it might change a bit as I hear new things from my investigator, but the actual nitty gritty of trial, preparing arguments, thinking about in limine motions, prepping jury instructions, writing a trial brief, I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it until trial is upon me, and then I’m generally left cramming.

    I know this is a weakness and I try to get things prepped earlier. I try to pick the cases I am certain are going to go to trial so that my work is not wasted. Inevitably, anything I prep ahead of time goes away. I think Trial God is trying to tell me something.

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