Bricks on the Brain

UM Law

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Peak Performance in the Legal Profession

A collegue recently took it upon herself to ask the SBA secretary to forward all of us an email promoting her new book.

I have read the excerpt available online and I have read the author's bio (assumedly self-authored) on the same website. From what I have seen, I am not particularly impressed with this project, and I feel it reflects poorly upon UM Law students. As she is not yet a lawyer, I will reserve my judgments as to how such things reflect upon the community of lawyers.

First and foremost, the author is not a lawyer. She has not even officially graduated yet, nor has she taken the bar. It is not at all clear why she is qualified to profess a means of achieving "peak performance" in a profession in which she has yet to officially serve.

Secondly, as I understand her bio, she has yet to serve in any profession. It seems she went straight from college in 2002 into law school. One wonders why she didn't take it upon herself to write "Peak Performance in Law School" or "Peak Performance in Academia", the field where her actual experience seems to lie. In her defense it appears from the bio that she did have some sort intern-type job during law school.

The bio is filled with other statements that fail to pass my smell test:

  • It purports, "Over the last decade [the author] has conducted independent research on the psychology of human peak performance." However, judging by the picture, graduation dates and the average law school grduation age, she is probably 25+/- 2 years. That would mean that "research" on this project began in high-school.
  • A second smelly sales ploy is an attempt to associate with other successful people, such as "Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Ken Blanchard, Paul Brown, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Ferraro, David Roehrs, Joseph Moriello and Richard Branson" all of whom it is claimed are her "mentors". The dictionary defines a mentor as "... a trusted counselor or teacher, especially in occupational settings." This implies some sort of interaction. Has the author interacted with all of these "mentors?" Or did the author of the bio "accidentally" confuse the term mentor with "role model" in an effort to employ the sales tactic of celebrity association, aka presumptious name-dropping?

After reading the sample chapter, Chapter 5, there is hardly anything distinguishing the book from the stacks of motivational books littering yard sales and used book stores accross America. It contains a rehashing and recycling of tired sports and business analogies. The strategies are nothing more than common-sense strategies that most law students have already mastered. Of course the book does distinguish itself from other works with the author's apparant mastery of prose: "Herb Brooks made the difference with his vision, tenacity, and quite frankly, “balls” to push this team beyond its limits to achieve what he set out to do" Ahhh genious. Pure genious.

It seems to me that a law student ought to spend their time writing scholarly case notes and comments for academic publication, not on some naive attempt to cash in on the motivational literature racket. It makes no difference to me how a girl makes her living, just don't bring down the good name of UM Law in the process.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Elementary School

I recently had a very brief exchange of views with the Lawfool about a course that is taught to UM 1L's called 'Elements'.

Exactly what Elements is, and what it is intended to accomplish often vexes 1L's to the same extent as the question, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" A number of observations come to mind.

First, after the 1L rite of passage, interest in resolving that question fades exponentially. Elements becomes just another class in a long string of questionably useful classes, and it quickly fades into the hazy mush of memories that make up the 1L experience. The students who once adamantly protested the need for Elements and advocated its demise find other things to occupy themselves with, easily finding new gross injustices within legal education to complain about.

But secondly, many students change their views over time, and as some 3Ls reminisce they often articulate new found appreciation for the Elements experience. Often you hear that the student now feels that if they could do it again, they could easily coast into A. They now see how simple the class really was, childs-play almost, and the only barrier to success in the class was themselves.

My own opinion is that three courses in particular are vital for every student to take: Elements, LRW, and Lit Skills. The reason I think they are each vital is because only by taking those classes will the student be exposed to his own strengths and weaknesses. As a whole, they let a student know if his strengths lie in analysis and argument of law, or analysis and argument of facts. Few people are good at both.

In my view, almost all substantive exams at UM are primarily tests of the student's ability to remember black letter law and then argue facts. Unfortunately for many students, they don't realize this until its too late to improve their GPA. On the other hand, Elements and the LRW memo and brief test the student's ability to analyse and argue law without the aid of third party study guides and hornbooks. Lit Skills tests the student's ability to communicate and make a presentation, an entirely different animal altogether.

Lastly, Elements is a quaint tradition that binds generations of UM Law alumni, giving every job-seeking student an ice-breaker when faced with an interview with an ex-Cane.