Cordell Parvin Blog Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Career Success: What learning is most important?

Posted in Career Development

It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts Most

That is the Chapter 3 title of a book by former UCLA basketball player Swen Nator: You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices.

I think of this often, because I have met many lawyers who quit learning because they “know it all.” It is like they go on cruise control with their careers. More importantly, I have met many lawyers who quit learning because they think they “know it all,” when if the truth be known, they don’t.

Since we are on the subject of basketball, I read a very interesting story about Kobe Bryant. What Mozart and Kobe Bryant Can Teach Us About Deliberate Practice. (I guess it is also about Mozart, but…). Kobe Bryant clearly knows all there is to know about shooting jump shots. But, read the part where Robert, a trainer for Team USA, describes his first experience with Kobe and reveals one of the reasons the superstar has become so successful. You will find that Kobe practiced very deliberately with the clear goal of making 800 jump shots before finishing.

Jeff Pollock is a successful litigator in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton office. If you look at his bio, you will see he has received many honors for his legal skills and work. He is a prime example of a lawyer who is continuing to learn even after he arguably knows it all. I asked Jeff to share with you thoughts on continual learning.

Because there were few trials at my first firm, I started reading everything I could on trial practice and appellate advocacy (Thomas Mauet on Trial Techniques; McElhaney’s Trial Notebook; Tererence MacCarthy’s books and Cassettes on Cross-Examination; Francis Wellman’s Art of Cross-Examination, etc.)

I also attended the NITA Trial Training Course and then the Advanced NITA Trial Training Course.

I attended Brian Garner’s programs on Legal writing because they not only help with writing, but also with framing the issue—which is the heart of great appellate advocacy.

I also reached out at Inns of Court meetings and at ABA Litigation dinners to Judges I had appeared before and explained that I wanted to really improve my trial practice and appellate advocacy skills. I asked them  to let me know when they had trials, so that I could just sit in the back and observe.

Twenty years ago I began collecting any law review/journal or bar publication articles on trial practice, selecting a jury, voir dire, openings, closing, cross-examination. In particular I am constantly looking for articles and explanations about the theory and policy behind the rules of evidence.

For each major appeal or trial, I talk to anyone who will listen about the matter to get their take on the issue, on the other side’s argument, and on what would be decisive to them.

I do mock trials and appellate “murder boards” for each major case. After presenting the case, I shut up because I want the people in the room to talk openly about what I just offered as the argument. It is critical that I not defend my approach as otherwise there will not be a real discussion.

Some lawyers ask me why I am constantly reading books and articles. When I practiced law, I had “healthy paranoia” which drove me to strive to become a better lawyer. In my current work with lawyers, the answer can be found in chapter 3 of You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned,”  where Swen Nator mentions the context of Coach Wooden continually learning. He writes that Coach Wooden said:

“The purpose of self-improvement is, of course, to help students improve. [The coach] must continually be exploring for ways to improve himself in order that he may improve others . . .”

I love helping lawyers improve and that provides me with a great incentive to improve myself.

I hope you have found something you can implement from our series this week. If so let me know what you are “deliberately practicing.”