I freaked a lot of people out in law school. Especially first year…
I handwrite at the speed of molasses. Maybe because I print in all caps. Which is funny considering what that means online (#OldYeller) and how it wars with my outward facing manner.
But that’s not what this story is about.
Slothful handwriting was never an issue. Until law school. Especially. First. Year.
There’s a lot of pressure to perform the first year. It’s your one chance to “make” Law Review. An honor that opens legions of wood-paneled doors and follows you in all its arcane glory for decades. Everyone’s gunning for it. Generally, the top 10% make it. And you can only make it first year. Because once on, you’re put to work for the next two years writing and researching and editing.
Let’s add another wrinkle. Most of your first year grades are based on a single exam, given at the end of the year. One test. One day. One grade. For. An. Entire. Year.
How you perform on that day matters. And most exams are written. By hand.
Which brings us full circle to my dilemma. I have one chance to impress. And I write like a slug. But there’s actually one thing I do slower. Read.
So, here I am. Faced with a 15-page fact-pattern, followed by a single question.
“Identify all potential causes of action, argue both sides, apply all relevant rules of law and decide who wins each and why.”
Minutes in, people on all sides start to write. And write. And write. Pages and pages of blue books snap over as the sound of madly-scrawling pens consumes the room.
The firehose approach to essay test-taking is, apparently, alive and well. Spray the page. Write everything you’ve ever learned. Not just during the semester, but since birth. If you came out of the womb with a priori knowledge or you’ve developed the ability to tap into alternative realms, write that, too. Screw it, it’s all points. And you need every point you can get.
Then, pray the TA grading your paper:
- Isn’t drunk,
- Has already loaded up on black coffee, and
- Doesn’t mind wading through a vast ocean of caca in the quest to uncover the handful of true gems that’ll land you the points needed to rock the grade.
This option isn’t open to me. I can’t do the firehose. On a technical level, I just can’t write that fast. For every four or five “blue books” my classmates amass, I can write maybe one.
So I sit. Knowing every word I write needs to be a direct hit. It needs to count. I can’t settle for a point or check mark every three pages. For me, it needs to come every three words.
Fifteen minutes pass. I sit.
Thirty minutes. Still nothing.
Not a word in my first and what would become my only blue book. I seem to stare out into oblivion. Friends see this and, I’d later learn, get a bit spooked. They think I’ve frozen. But something else is happening.
I’m in a bit of a processing trance. Synthesizing facts, arguments, laws, conclusions. Arguing both sides in my head. Applying, battling, refuting, judging and resolving. Pattern recognition consumes me. Because once I begin to write, every concept needs to be fully formed, or as close as I can come.
I can’t do the firehose. I can’t spray and pray. I have to do more of the fountain pen. Slow deliberate strokes, indelibly rendered in a single pass.
Every. Word. Must. Count.
Finally I begin to write, a solid 45-minutes to an hour after most have begun. I complete a single blue book, walk to the front of the room and turn it in 15 minutes early. From the outside looking in, this appears to confirm my friends’ assumptions. I’d lost it.
A few weeks later, I get my results. Top 10%. Law Review.
It would take me years to understand what really happened though.
My apparent “linguistic disability” forced me to function on a level of extreme value-driven hyper-efficiency. I scored points. But there was something bigger going on.
It was about respect.
People don’t want to have to work to know what you know. Tweet this.
When you force the person who you seek to serve to be pummeled by the spray of the firehose as a precursor to receiving the true nuggets of wisdom you have to share, how receptive do you think that person becomes? Contrast that with listening deeply, thinking more deeply, taking your time and then offering pre-digested, immediately-actionable tactical strikes with less frequency.
Not only is this more helpful and respectful to the recipient, it’s also more likely to keep those in a position to judge you in a state of mind that makes them not only place a higher value on your contribution, but want more. More of what you have to share. More of what you see. More of you.
This is especially true in the world in which we live today. Because, increasingly, we live and breath into a barrage of constant connection and information. A firehose world.
How do you shine in that world?
Be a source of value. But, maybe more important. Be a source of ease.
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