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Grit and a Growth Mindset

There seems to be a general lament among the elder generation of lawyers in regards to the quality of new law school graduates. Simultaneously, there is also a cacophony of complaints from recent law school graduates about the general state of the legal profession and the dissonance between what they felt they should have received from their law school education. See: Shilling Me Softly and other “scamblawgs.”

The older generation’s complain seems to be that Gen Y grads are, well, complaining too much. Gen Y needs to strap on their big-boy (or girl) pants and get to it.

Gen Y grads seem to be saying they just haven’t been given the opportunity.

Despite being a recent Gen Y Law Grad myself…I have to agree with the older generation of lawyers. Put up or shut up, pound the pavement, press the flesh, get out there and make it happen. Nothing to lose means nothing but gain.

Success is not something that is handed to you. It requires long hours, hard work, and dedication. It requires fighting, passion, and sacrifice.

It requires grit. From Wired Science:

There are two interesting takeaways from this study. The first is that there’s a major contradiction between how we measure talent and the causes of talent. In general, we measure talent using tests of maximal performance. Think, for instance, of the NFL Combine: Players perform in short bursts (40 yard dash, short IQ test, catching drills, etc.) under conditions of high motivation. The purpose of the event is to see what players are capable of, to determine the scope of their potential. The problem with these tests, however, is that the real world doesn’t resemble the NFL Combine.  Instead, success in the real world depends on sustained performance, on being able to work hard at practice, and spend the weekend studying the playbook, and reviewing hours of game tape. Those are all versions of deliberate practice, and our ability to engage in such useful exercises largely depends on levels of grit. The problem, of course, is that grit can’t be measured in a single afternoon on a single field. (By definition, it’s a metric of personality that involves long periods of time.) The end result is that our flawed beliefs about talent have led to flawed tests of talent. Perhaps that explains why there is no “consistent statistical relationship between combine tests and professional football performance.” We need to a test that measures how likely people are to show up, not just how they perform once there.

The second takeaway involves the growing recognition of “non-cognitive” skills like grit and self-control. While such traits have little or nothing to do with intelligence (as measured by IQ scores), they often explain a larger share of individual variation when it comes to life success. It doesn’t matter if one is looking at retention rates at West Point or teacher performance within the Teach for America program or success in the spelling bee: Factors like grit are often the most predictive variables of real world performance. Thomas Edison was right: even genius is mostly just perspiration.

It’s the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is intimidated by obstacles, sees effort as fruitless and takes criticism poorly. A growth mindset embraces challenges, sees effort as a means to achievement, and integrates criticism to improve performance. (You should really go read the whole post over by ex-lawyer Michael Richard which sums up the research of Dr. Carol Dweck into the growth mindset with a really great set of flow charts)

So, other Gen Y Law Grads: Nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter. I’m sorry if you feel as though you were duped in some manner, but at this point you’re spending your time crying over spilled milk as opposed to doing something about it. The legal profession is in upheaval. Guess what? So is the whole world. Change is here whether you like it or not. And despite what you may have been lead to believe, change has always been the name of the game. Computers and the internet have just punched change into the fast lane. Either embrace it or get out of the race. I’ll leave you with the words of Courage Wolf (who you can follow on Twitter actually):


  1. I am so god damn tired of all these whining little pussies.

    It’s like you can’t even get on the internet without some weak-ass Boomer going on and on about how they get criticized for being so greedy and wrecking the economy.

    It’s easy for Boomers to say it’s time to put on your big-boy pants, they were handed a pair of big-boy pants when they graduated from law school. Now, many grads are getting out with a $100,000 or $200,000 debt burden they have to tackle before they can even consider buying a pair of pants.

    Now, I agree that there’s no practical option other than to just work harder, and no amount of complaining is going to make the economy any better. But, there’s two things the older generation of lawyers needs to accept:

    1) There isn’t enough work to go around. Boomers like to imagine that if you just pound the pavement hard enough, work will emerge, but just as complaining doesn’t fix the market, neither does knocking on doors. There’s enough work in most cities to feed a few new attorneys, but not all of them. A lot of the criticism levied against Boomers comes from their ignorance or denial of what things are really like. They suck, hard. It used to be you could graduate from a TTT and have most of the same opportunities as someone who went to the top school in your state. Now, you’re likely going to be spending most of your career doing contract doc review and debt collection cases. A simple “sorry things suck so much” would go towards repairing a lot of lost good will.

    2) You are not insulated from criticism. If your buddy drives you car into a ditch, yeah, you have to call a tow truck and deal with getting it out, but that doesn’t mean you don’t also get to tell your buddy he fucked up driving your car into the ditch. If your buddy said to you “Quit whining, put on your big-boy pants and just get your car out of the ditch” you’d probably pop him in the face.

    • I actually thought of you a bit while writing this. You got caught in this exact trap and were downsized. Instead of bitching about it (well, in addition to bitching about it), you changed States, took another Bar, started a podcast, a blog, and now a news site. Not exactly just twiddling your thumbs and waiting for the next big thing to fall in your lap. [ But could you hire a web designer for Constitutional Daily?!? Stick to snark, design isn’t your thing 🙂 ]

      RE: Not enough work to go around: I agree. There are too many new lawyers and not enough entry-level lawyer jobs. That means we all just have to hustle more than the next guy. Considering that is seems as though most of the next guys are moping about, those of us who get after it should be able snap up opportunities when they present themselves. It’s a tough situation and environment that we find ourselves in but we just have to play the hand we’re dealt. It would be nice if law schools owned up to their BS statistics though.

  2. I’m quite fortunate in that I have both no interest in practicing law and an interest in doing something I’m moderately competent at. But, I more-than-frequently am left wondering what I’d do if the site doesn’t look like it will ever make money.

    If I have to practice law again, I’m pretty screwed. Unemployed long enough to have a big scarlet L on my resume. The experience I do have is pretty irrelevant to any practice in this state.

    If I have to hang up my own shingle, well, I don’t have the money for malpractice insurance. I can forget having an office, or even a virtual office. I can’t even afford business cards. I’ve never read a contract or a will, and the only time I’ve ever been in court was to be sworn in.

    If I do ever get someone interested in becoming a client, I’d have to pray to God they don’t ask any questions at the initial meeting, like “So do I need a witness when I sign my will?” or “Do I have to file a copy of this contract anywhere?” Fuck if I know.

    As for the layout of the site, that’s what you get for both 1) free and 2) no design experience at all. If you can find the shit you’re looking for, that’s good enough for me. It’s like the Millennium Falcon of web sites.

  3. If you are not a Boomer, you need to shut up. I am. Things were hard even in 1983, when I graduated law school. They were unpalatable to me even then that I went into another line of work, in which I have done well. It would never have occurred to me to whine about a previous generation because of my difficulties. You are owed nothing. A hard lesson to learn, but better earlier than later.

  4. First of all, welcome back to the good ol’ blogosphere. Keith! Good post here, whining alone doesn’t do any good for anyone.

    BL1Y, judging from your comment, you don’t strike me a a person who would shy from Keith’s advice in this post. Do you mean to tell me that if someone asked whether you need a witness for a will, you wouldn’t tell them “I’m not entirely sure, but I will find out and let you know”??? Hit the books. Then, if they fire you, fine. But the next time you have a first interview and get the same qusetion you can confidently say “Yes, you will need a competent witness” (in Washington State, anyway). Its all about how you spin an experience; read the post: you gotta have grit.

    Now, I also get your point about the past generation. Having grit doesn’t mean that you grind it out with your mouth shut. If the problem is the past generation (which it might very well be) then make sure they know they screwed up while you’re trudging through the muck.

    • Absolutely you should take getting fired (or not hired) as an opportunity to identify what you need to learn.

      But, what makes law particularly daunting for many people is that you often have no idea how big a particular area of law is. Say you want to be able to offer trusts in addition to wills. It will be very hard for an attorney working on their own to know whether this is something they can pick up in a day or a week, or something that is insane to attempt without years of experience under their belt.

      Until your work gets challenged in court, you don’t know if you’re doing it right. This is why the law firm model is so important. Having a seasoned attorney supervising you means you have someone who can draw an outline around what you need to learn, give you an idea of the scope of the breadth and depth of knowledge you’ll need.

      If the new reality is that law schools are going to be producing attorney orphans, then they need to move away from such a heavy focus on theory and give students a lot more experience handling simple matters from beginning to end.

      • “If the new reality is that law schools are going to be producing attorney orphans, then they need to move away from such a heavy focus on theory and give students a lot more experience handling simple matters from beginning to end.”

        Aside from the new reality, this should be the case. Law Schools have become places of theoretical fluff that has little to do with the practice of law. I say cut the actual school time to two years and create a mandatory two year residency program. Like our friends in America’s Hat have to do with their “articling” system. It would produce young attorneys much better suited to practice.

    • Thanks Peter – Good to be back!

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