i The Frugal Law Student | 2007 | February

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A Whole New Mind: Empathy

Written by Brett McKay

Today we’ll be discussing A Whole New Mind’s take on empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another and understand how they feel. It requires one to look beyond themselves. I like how Dan describes empathy:

Empathy allows us to see the other side of an argument, comfort someone in distress, and bite our lip instead of muttering something snide. Empathy builds self-awareness [and]… allows us to work together.

How does empathy apply to law? The legal field is a people field. Everything you do in law requires empathy. When you’re before a judge or jury, the ability to understand how they think or feel about things will assist you in persuading them to your side. When you sit down and negotiate a business deal or try to mediate a divorce, empathy and people skills are essential.

I think it’s hard for law students to understand the importance of empathy in law. We just see law in the abstract. We read cases, extract law, and that’s that. For me, I often forget that the case involves real people.

So, how can you improve your sense of empathy? Here’s what the book suggests.

  1. Take acting classes. Acting is empathizing. We often hear how an actor has to “get into character.” It means the actor has to look beyond themselves and try to discover how their character would act in different situations. It’s a difficult skill to master, but the lessons learned from acting classes will surely help anybody with the ability to empathize. Acting classes can also help with public speaking, a vital skill in litigation.
  2. Volunteer. Volunteering forces you to interact with people who aren’t like you. By helping people with your problems, you can develop your ability to empathize.
  3. Take emotional quotient tests. Ivillage has a nice test so you can see how your emotional IQ stands.

My own suggestion for developing empathy in law school.

  • Get to know the people in your casebook. As mentioned above, I have the problem of overlooking that real people are the characters in my case book. As a way to counteract this, I’ll Google the plaintiff’s or defendant’s name. Often I can come up with a picture of the individual and a news story to go along with it. It’s a nice way to personalize what I’m reading and get beyond the purely analytic nature of the case law method.

A Whole New Mind: Symphony

Written by Brett McKay

Pink characterizes Symphony as the ability to see relationships between seemingly disparate things. By using metaphor and analogy, one can make connections to different ideas, thus, creating a big picture outlook.

Developing Symphony can have many benefits to the field of law. When you’re writing a brief, you extract different laws from cases and statutes. The trick is finding a way to synthesize all these rules into one overall rule. Developing your sense of symphony can help. Additionally, when an attorney writes a brief or memo, they often can’t find any cases that are on point to their issue. This is where analogizing becomes a necessity. Analogizing comes when one takes a step back and looks at the big picture. Often when you’re researching law, you get tunnel vision and fail to see the connection between different cases.

How can you develop your sense of Symphony? Here’s what Pink suggests

1. Listen to great symphonies. You can get free music on Pandora. Open Culture has links to several podcasts that offer free classical music.
2. Hit the newsstand. Go to Borders and pick out 10 magazines that you would never read. Sit down, go through them, and take notes. I did this other day and came away with a whole bunch of new ideas for my blog and my legal writing class.
3. Draw. Drawing requires one to be able to see the big picture. Every line connects is a part of the whole.
4. Keep a metaphor log. You’d be surprised how pervasive metaphors are in our lives. I tried doing this last week, but had some trouble at first because I would miss common phrases that we say that are actually metaphors. The exercise made me much more aware of the nuances of language.
5. Create an inspiration board. Fashion designers do this. Whenever they find a design or material that they like they tack it on a board. After awhile they start to see connections and are able to create something completely new. If you’re working on case or a law school memo, create a place where you can just throw information or ideas so that you can take a step back and make connections. Mind Maps are a perfect way to do this. Check out bubbl.us to make free mind maps. Although, I haven’t tried it yet, Backpack seems like it would be a good way to collect and view information.

How I Get Things Done in Law School

Written by Brett McKay

I’m a big fan of GTD. Since I’ve started it during Christmas break, I’ve noticed I’ve been getting more done during the day and feel I have more control of my life. What I like most about GTD is how tweekable it is. I’m still working with my system, but I thought I would share with everyone how I’ve implemented GTD in my law school career.

Hipster PDA
I use a modified hipster PDA. I tried using pure index cards, but I didn’t like it very much. I like having all the information that I need right in front of me instead of having to shuffle through a bunch of cards. To solve this problem, I busted out Inkscape, a free open source alternative to Correl Draw, and created my own Law School GTD sheet.

At the top I have my Semester and Weekly goals. Below that I have my Weekly Review Section. This was inspired by the Emergent Task Manager from David Sheah. For each class, I’ve listed the four things that I want to do each week to review. They include reviewing outlines, going through flash cards, listening to Sum and Substance Mp3s, and hypo problems. My goal each week is to do each of those things four times for each class. Whenever I complete a task, I fill in the bubble. I figure if I fill out the bubbles completely, I’m in good shape going into finals. Next, I have my project list, followed by my next actions list divided into law school, home, and errands context. Here’s what it looks like.


On the other side of the sheet, I print off a blank weekly calendar from Outlook. I like to fill out by hand. Sure, it might not be as efficient, but pencil and paper is my preference. I use that as my agenda to place my time specific tasks. I mark off time for outlining, reading, and my review sessions.

I fold up my agenda and include a stack of cards. On a few of the cards I write a context for each class: @ con law, @ property, @ crim law. On those cards, I write questions that come up during class or reading. I can refer to them later during my review sessions or I take the card with me to my professor’s office and get them answered.

This system has worked out for me nicely. I have the portability of a hipster PDA without having to shuffle through a bunch of cards.

I’ve created a generic version of law school GTD sheet. I’ve made it available in generic1.pdf Please feel free to use it.

Later this week I’ll be posting on how I use GTD in my legal research and writing class. Check back soon.

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A Whole New Mind: Story

Written by Brett McKay

Story is the fundamental instrument of thought. For thousands of years, humans have been using stories to transmit important ideas and concepts. The past fifty years have emphasized information. Those who had access to the most information succeeded. However, the internet has made information democratic. Information is no longer limited to the elite. Because information can be accessed by anyone, the ability to present information in a persuasive or engaging manner is what will set individuals apart from others.

How story applies to law

Legal research can be outsourced. In fact, many firms are doing so. Because of West and Lexis Nexis, legal research can be done by someone in India at anytime. You won’t be able to get by in a law career with just research. The best lawyers are excellent story tellers. Think about it. Writing a trial brief is essentially telling a story, as well as arguing before a jury. The way you present your client’s case will determine how persuasive it is. Yes, facts are necessary, but they are not sufficient. If you can’t tell a good story, it’s going to be hard to convince a judge or a jury that your side should win.

What can you do

1. Write a mini saga. A mini saga is a 50 word story with a beginning, middle, and an end.
2. Experiment with digital storytelling. Use Powerpoint, but go beyond the bullet points. One of my favorite digital story telling programs is Microsoft Photostory. You can also check out Fray and City Stories to get some ideas for digital stories.
3. Start a story telling group. Our society has lost the art of storytelling during the last century. Get some friends together and bring it back. Each week gather together and assign someone to be the master storyteller.
4. Books to read.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Robert McCloud.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell.

A Whole New Mind: Design

Written by Brett McKay

An eye for design is a skill that one will need to have if they wish to thrive in the R-directed economy. The ability to design is something that can’t be automated and is difficult to outsource.

How does design effect lawyers? Think back to the 2000 presidential election when the decision went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. For 36 days, Gore and Bush fought over counting little rectangle ballots that weren’t completely punched out. That’s right. The infamous chads. Thousands of votes from Palm Beach county Florida- a heavily Democratic enclave populated by elderly Jewish people- were invalidated because they voted for both Al Gore and George Bush. Why on earth would someone vote for two presidential candidates? The answer: bad design. Come to find out, the design of the butterfly ballot confused the elderly folk, so they ended up voting twice. So we have an instance of bad design leading a case to the highest court of the land.

Many products liability cases turn on the faulty design of a product. Sure, you’ll hire experts to help pin point the exact flaws, but having a general knowledge of design can help you as you develop a case.

Lawyers should consider design when they’re writing up contracts or legal forms. Does the layout make reading the contract easy or does it cause confusion?

Legal Andrew has suggested law firms get their own blog. While you can hire a site designer to create it for you, it would be helpful for an attorney to have some sense of design so they can give feedback on how they want the site to look.

So, how can you develop your sense of design? Pink suggests the following:

1. Keep a Design Notebook– when you see a great design in a graphic or a product, make note of. Describe it. Write what you like about it. Also, note design features you don’t like.

2. Read Design Magazines– Pink suggests Dwell, O Magazine, Print, and Real Simple. Another one I found the other day was Communication Arts. Also, check the computer section in the magazine rack. There are several web design mags.

3. Channel Your Annoyance– sit down with a household item that you think is ugly or is poorly designed. Sketch out how you would improve it.

Book Review: A Whole New Mind

Written by Brett McKay

This week, The Frugal Law Student takes a look at A Whole New Mind. The author, Daniel Pink, proposes that our country is in the process of transforming from a left brain to right brain economy. Is what he says useful for lawyers? Let’s find out.

Our brain is divided in half. Our brain’s left side gives us the ability to analyze, think logically, and calculate. Lawyers, accountants, and computer programmers typify the type of careers that require left brain or “L-directed” thinking. Our brain’s right side controls our emotions, spirituality, and creativity. It sees things holistically rather than analytically. Individuals with a tendency for “R-directed thinking” usually become artists, caregivers, or counselors.

While the 20th century was dominated by L-directed thinking, Mr. Pink argues that the 21st century will be the era of the right brain. Because of globalization and atomization, many jobs that once required left brain thinking can be done by a computer or a worker in India. These include legal jobs. I’ve posted previously about the trend in firms outsourcing legal research jobs to India. So, don’t think just because you’re going to law school or are practicing law that you’re safe from being effected by this change.

Are you ready for this new world? Mr. Pink suggests six senses or traits that workers should develop if they wish to thrive in this new economy. They are:

1. Design
2. Story
3. Symphony
4. Empathy
5. Play
6. Meaning

During the next week, I’ll be discussing each sense and provide suggestions on how lawyers can incorporate them into their work. My goal is to provide tools that law students and lawyers can use to prepare themselves for this new world. So, check by all this week. I’m looking forward to your comments.