Reading and Knowledge
Your ability to thoroughly absorb, understand and apply written information key to your professional survival.
Important! This Policy lies at the core of all training you will receive to work at Godfrey | Johnson. This is why it is The first item you are asked to study in your training. It is essential that you read this material with great care and apply it without fail to all of your reading and study. Read this material slowly and carefully — your comprehension of this material will be tested more than once.
Corollary: If you can’t do these things, you have not read the material in question.
The Importance of Study & Learning
There is a direct correlation between the willingness and ability of a person to read, understand and apply written material and that person’s compensation over time. Lawyers and support personnel are “knowledge workers,” meaning that we earn our living with our minds. We solve problems by obtaining and using information to formulate legal advice, strategies and tactics. To do this, we must know a great number of things. At a minimum, we must know and understand the substantive and procedural law governing a dispute, the evidence and facts of a case, including relevant financial, contractual, scientific or other technical aspects, and much more.
The Firm’s standards are demanding. Your ability to absorb new information on a daily basis is the bedrock of your ability to survive in this practice. We want you to succeed, and we realize that your ability to do so depends more on the principles set forth in this Policy than any other, which is why this Policy includes specific tools to improve your skills, and why we require you to demonstrate mastery of this specific material as an early step in your training to work here.
A New World of Understanding
There are people who have learned how to make it through life without understanding large parts of what is going on around them. They have come to accept confusion, misunderstanding and ignorance as an unpleasant but unavoidable fact of life. They have developed coping skills that do not include identifying and correcting their lack of understanding, relying instead on social niceties and distractions to conceal their ignorance. We are all guilty of this to one degree or another, but this does not excuse the wrongful nature of being comfortable with your confusion or lack of understanding in a professional setting.
In this world of tablet computers and the Internet, a person wishing to learn a new skill can do so at very little cost. One can obtain the equivalent of many university degrees by taking advantage of the ocean of information that lies literally at one’s fingertips. To do so, one must know how to read, how to study and how to diligently pursue knowledge of large bodies of information through study.
The truth is that there is nothing you can’t learn, nothing you can’t understand. If you believe that this is true, it is. If you believe it is not true, then you are holding yourself back for no reason. You should never be comfortable with your own ignorance.
The Language of the Law
There are few professions with more specialized nomenclature than law. Knowing the definitions of legal terms is essential for your success.
As you will learn below, the worst thing you can do when absorbing written or verbal information is to encounter a word or phrase you do not understand and let it pass without remedying your misunderstanding. When we encounter words for which we do not have a contextually correct definition, we experience sub-conscious derailment in relation to the flow of information. This means that, without actually realizing it, your ability to absorb a stream of information is upset. You become distracted and you lose track of what is being delivered to you. You may begin to disassociate yourself from the source of the material, the subject as a whole, or worse. You may judge yourself as “not too bright,” or think you have a fundamental inability to learn particular subjects.
When the subject arises as part of your profession this can cause real trouble!
The Most Important Thing You Will Ever Learn
The most important thing you will ever learn is: how to learn.
One of the most essential factors that determine the skill and ability of a legal professional is that person’s ability to quickly and thoroughly absorb, understand and apply written information. This is the ability to study.
There are people who lack the ability to read the instructions that come with an electronic appliance (such as a programmable remote control or a stereo amplifier) and become skilled in the operation of the device. We know the cause of that problem: it is not that they lack a technical background. No, it is simply that they do not really know how to read, which is true of most people.
“What do you mean, I don’t know how to read?” they ask, flabbergasted. “Of course I know how to read!” You could take such a person and ask them to read a paragraph aloud and they would be able to do so. But give them a complex document such as a published decision, a technical manual or a textbook and give them a week to get through it, then test their comprehension, and you’ll find out that their ability to read is only an apparancy—they can’t read as we define the word. Sadly, such people will offer up all kinds of genuinely held beliefs regarding what is holding them back, and all of these reasons are usually completely wrong. “I just don’t have a mind for technical material,” they’ll say. Or, “I don’t have time to spend days pouring through a textbook to learn a new subject.” They may even say, “I just don’t have the attention span to learn voluminous material.”
Yet some of these people want to work in a law firm, which is downright scary!
The barriers that hold people back in this manner are known to us, and soon will be known to you as well. For example, impatience and disinterest can stop you from learning, which is ironic because the loss of time, stress and frustration that come from being ignorant exact a much higher price than the time lost in absorbing information when it is first presented becomes relevant. When we use the word “ignorant,” we do not mean “stupid,” though these two undesirable traits are similar. Ignorance refers to a lack of knowledge or information; stupidity refers to not knowing what is going on in one’s mind or immediate environment. Both of these are tied generally to an overall lack of understanding, but in order to remedy these problems it is important not to confuse them, for they have a slightly different anatomy. Ignorance can be cured by learning new material. Stupidity can be cured by raising a person’s internal and outward awareness. When both of these are remedied, understanding improves, which in turn opens the door to obtaining skill, which is the only thing that makes you valuable to a law firm (and to most other organizations, for that matter).
Let us go back to the example of reading entire textbooks. Few people have the ability to read a textbook cover to cover and understand everything in that book without the benefit of sitting through lectures or being part of study groups. Imagine being given a freshman-level college textbook on a subject such as accounting, chemistry, biology, architecture or metallurgy (all of which are relevant to what we do in our firm) and being told you would receive a million dollars if you could learn everything in that book within a week. In order to meet such a challenge, what would you do? How would you get the money? The obvious answer is this: you would read the book. A sentence at a time, a page at a time, a chapter at a time. Sounds simple in theory, right? But could you relly do it?
If you are like most people, and if you are honest with yourself, you probably remember trying to do this very thing — not for a million dollars but simply for a passing grade — and having a devil of a time getting through a whole textbook with full understanding of its contents. What this might imply is that you know how to read, but not skillfully, and that you don’t know what makes you become so fidgety that you give up on learning large bodies of information.
What if you had the ability to read textbooks cover to cover and learn what is contained in them without taking forever and without feeling particularly strained by the exercise? Can you imagine how powerful you could become? What if you had the ability to pour through a thousand pages of medical records and fully understand the key information relating to the patient’s health care and course of treatment? How valuable would that make you in a personal injuiry litigation firm? What if you had the ability to absorb entire subjects in a matter of days or a few weeks, so that you could learn medicine, computing, engineering, accounting, finance or any other subject at will? Would that not make you a super-being of sorts? Wouldn’t that open the door to a virtually unlimited career?
The startling and exciting fact is that you can develop these abilities, more easily than you think!
Attention Span and Discipline
For many people, the act of reading lengthy technical information is like walking a tightrope in a strong, gusty wind. It takes superhuman effort not to fall off the wire; it is just a matter of time. Eventually they will fall off. They start, but they can’t finish. When they were in school, and tests were involved, they struggled and suffered, and told themselves that they were stupid or that they just didn’t have a natural aptitude for the subject they were studying. The stress of these experiences leads them to a terribly sad destination: they decide that once they’ve graduated, they’ll never study a tough subject again. Or perhaps they don’t even graduate. Their days of intellectual growth are finished before their adult lives even reach full swing.
They may even have been led to believe that they have ADD, or “attention deficit disorder” or some other mysterious mental defect over which they have no control. They conclude that their basic personality is such that they lack discipline, or that they just are not intelligent. “I’m not book smart,” they sometimes say. Accepting such rubbish, they drift through life, crippled by a lack of confidence in their own abilities, rooted in false beliefs.
They simply never learned how to read and absorb information, which is a skill that can be taught and learned with relative ease when one makes the decision to actually do it and puts forth a bit of effort.
This can be just as true for legal professionals as for anyone else.
Organization of Information
For us, the problem is compounded by the fact that much of the information we must absorb does not come to us in neatly packaged single volumes that are organized in a logical and sequential chapters like a textbook.
Rather, we receive gigabytes of business and medical records, disorganized pleadings and discovery materials, and we must learn whole sections of the law by reading cases that often have no direct connection to one another and may contain opposing conclusions.
The legal rules upon which we operate are constantly changing. We are continuously pressed into matters that involve areas of knowledge that are new to us. Yet we are operating at all times in direct contest with adversaries who desperately need us to remain ignorant so that they can defeat us and our clients.
What this means for us is that, in addition to being able to read and study and effectively absorb and apply new information, we must be adept at organizing data before or during our study of it, so that the “chunks” of information we study are taken in at least a somewhat logical order. Our on-line, cloud-based information storage systems are specifically designed to make that task easier, but the use of those tools is the subject of other policies and procedures that relate to document managment. You need to know the material in this Policy before you move on to those subjects.
How Important Are Study Skills For A Professional Litigator?
There are two primary reasons it is vital to solve the problem of study. The first is that your potential as a human being is based on your mental abilities more than your physical abilities. Human beings, unlike any other life forms on this planet, survive with their intellect. This is why a 110-pound woman can learn to kill an enormous beast. Humans have devised, developed and mastered the technology to hunt, kill, butcher, cook and eat larger and more dangerous creatures. We did this with our minds. Our hands are merely an extension of our intellect. It took more than pure muscle to walk on the moon, but humans achieved this because we have the ability to learn new things.
The second reason that study skills are vital for you in particular is that you work in an environment in which you are in a constant state of intellectual war. You work for a litigation firm — and not just any litigation firm, but one that strives to be the very best.
You are only as valuable to us as what you know and how skillfully you can apply it. What you will need to know tomorrow is not the same as what you must know today. We could take on a new matter this afternoon that requires you to learn two or three new topics all within a day or two, so that you can then read and understand reams of incoming records and exhibits.
Your ability to perform legal research is just one manifestation of this skill.
Suppose you were hired to handle a patent dispute involving the use of subatomic physics to measure oxygen in water, or a case involving a fatal air crash, or a construction defect case or a case involving an explosion in a natural gas processing facility where metallurgical defects are alleged? What if you had to handle a case involving the spread of an infectious disease at a hospital, or the poisoning of air in a school? You may be telling yourself that you would “go to school” on the subjects, but how? “I’ll hire experts to bring me up to speed on these subjects,” most lawyers say. But rarely is that sufficient, and hiring experts as private tutors is more often than not beyond the realm of budgetary feasibility.
So you need to learn to read, to study written information, and to apply what you learn. You need to learn how to do this without having your hand held by an “expert,” or senior lawyers in the Firm. You need to make yourself into a learning machine.
What Are The Barriers That Keep Us From Learning?
You might be surprised to find that a simple thought experiment can quickly open the door to self-awareness when it comes to recognizing the factors that directly control how you respond to learning. Improved self-awareness is one of the cures for stupidity.
Storing working knowledge.
Newer lawyers working to establish a foothold in the challenging practice of litigation often say, “I don’t know the answer, but I know where to find it.” We view this comment as an ambiguous indicator. If it is offered as a willingness to rapidly learn new material, that is a good sign. If used as an excuse for not having a deep working knowledge of the rules of civil procedure, the rules of evidence, the contents of files or relevant substantive law, we view comments such as this as a very bad sign. History has taught us this lesson.
New lawyers and seasoned veterans alike are constantly engaged in intellectual contests that require, at the very minimum, a working knowledge of many different subjects. Having the information at hand is all but useless if you need to use it to make decisions or to persuade or educate judges, juries, clients or opponents. In those circumstances, holding the information in your mind and being able to work with it is mandatory. Knowing where to find the information is of no value if you fail to apply that skill every day of your professional life. What good is knowing where to find information if you don’t use it to locate and absorb that information so that you can go on to get your work done skillfully? Books and computer files do not think; people do, but only if they have absorbed all of the relevant information needed to work through a complex problem.
Positive experiences and results:
Think of a time in your life that you were thrilled by the experience of learning:
- Did you feel empowered?
- Were you proud of yourself?
- Did you have the feeling of limitless possibilities?
- Were you eager to learn more?
- What was it that made this experience so good?
Negative experiences and results:
Now think of a time when you were frustrated while trying to learn.
- Did you feel that you just aren’t cut out to learn that subject?
- Did you begin to resign from that area of life?
- Did you feel stuck, held back or just plain stupid?
- Did you want to withdraw from the material?
- What was it that made that experience unpleasant?
Hopefully this thought experiment shows you that it is possible to react either positively or negatively to the process of study, and that we tend to form unjustified negative beliefs about our own limitations or the dullness of the world if we allow the barriers that cause negative results to remain hidden from our conscious awareness.
The Barriers to Study
Restlessness Fidgeting and Loss of Focus
Why do we lose focus and stop reading when while in the midst of absorbing a large body of new material? Why do we feel intimidated by the prospect of thoroughly analyzing a massive compilation of medical or business records? Why do we have difficulty reading a long published legal opinion and fully understanding the reasoning of the court?
One of the greatest enemies to intellectual growth and information flow is the urge to break away and do something else. There are a few key causes of this.
One is that we’ve encountered a barrier to study such as those covered below, for which powerful remedies are also found below.
Another is that we are not organized in the use of our time, and we wonder whether we should be doing five small tasks in the time needed to complete one large study task. More tasks completed per unit of time is better, right? Not necessarily.
It is the importance of the task, its due-date and the time you have available that dictates when a task should be done. Yur use of the workflow tool known as GTD (for Getting Things Done, based upon a book by David Allen) should remedy your uncertainty about whether you can give yourself permission to concentrate on a large task for an extended period of time.
Sometimes we just need to sit back and digest what we’ve read for a moment. Other times we need to get up and move around. Both of these are acceptable solutions: just be sure that you get quickly back on task.
That is a matter of persoanal habit and discipline, which are things you can train yourself to skillfully apply.
We often fight with ourselves; we have conflicting urges. On the one hand, we realize that we ought to learn what is contained in a collection of documents, a published decision, a statute, or articles we need to read (such as this Policy). On the other hand, we despise the idea of plowing into the material, for we just aren’t interested. It can be boring to analyze the financial records of Acme Corporation or Jane Doe’s medical records. Wouldn’t it be more fun to play with your dog or surf the web or grab some coffee and chat with someone in the kitchen?
The urges that pull us away from our important studies often do not come not from something more important so much as being repelled away from the task of studying material. Our psychological and physiological reactions to the material are caused by the hidden barriers to study.
When these barriers are dissolved using the tools given here, the “repellent” effect of reading vanishes and productive learning for extended periods becomes much, much easier.
The basic barriers that make it hard for people to absorb information are these:
Barriers to learning:
- Misunderstood words or terms—this is the most common cause of two problems: incomplete understanding, and dislike for the material or the entire subject you are studying
- Lack of “mass,” meaning that the material you are reading leaves you without a sense of physical reality or knowledge of what you are supposed to do with the information
- Too steep a gradient, meaning that you have tried to move too quickly through the material or that you have not built your knowledge in a logical and sequential manner so that as new information comes in, you know what it relates to and how it connects to what you have already learned
- Kidding yourself about the life-and-death nature of knowledge and ignorance in a litigation environment
- Lack of interest (which results from a failure to understand why the material is important for you to know)
- Thinking you already know what you need to know about the subject and that further learning is unnecessary
- Thinking you are too busy to read and learn new material, particularly if it is detailed or voluminous
- Weak concentration skills, meaning that you are in the habit of succumbing to distractions rather than using discipline to hold your focus on a reading task that takes more than just a few seconds or minutes
- Relying on accessibility of information as a substitute for knowledge, which refers to the mistaken belief that if you have the material handy, you can always find what you need, which is a common but flawed excuse for learning, for you cannot process or think with information that is not in your mind
- Poor time management skills which adversely affects your willingness to shut out distractions
- Believing that memorization is the same as understanding, which is related to the difference between knowledge you can apply and knowledge you don’t know how to apply (for example, a lawyer memorize Rule 30(b)(6) without actually knowing in depth how to properly take or defend a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition)
There is light at the end of the tunnel. This is because the problems outlined above are not hard to solve if you have a few essential tools. Strangely enough, these tools are not taught in most schools. They allow one to learn by removing the barriers that stand in the way of learning. Most of these tools are based upon increasing your awareness of how you function when you are in a study mode, which is a valuable branch of the greatest study of all: the path to self-knowledge.
We have a growing number of tools on this website to assist you in dealing with all of the above barriers. In this written policy, we will focus on the items that are listed in italics above.
Confusion: Causes and Effects
Confusion comes from an inability to correlate data in a meaningful way, or put more simply, the inability to “connect the dots to see the whole picture.” Confusion is unpleasant and creates an almost physical sensation of distress. It is distasteful, to say the least, if not downright scary. When you read something that has you confused, you can’t help but want to throw it down and run away, or at least do something that you can understand, such as a hobby that you have already begun to master.
This simple mechanical phenomenon is what makes you think that you lack discipline, when in fact you are probably a highly disciplined person in most ways.
Being a successful student requires more than just a willingness to learn. Pitfalls do exist and students must know how to effectively learn in order to overcome them. It has been discovered that there are three definite barriers which can block a person’s ability to study and thus his ability to be educated. These barriers actually produce different sets of physical and mental reactions. If one knows and understands what these barriers are and how to handle them, his ability to study and learn will be greatly increased.
The Misunderstood Word
The most important barrier to study is the misunderstood word. A misunderstood word is a word which is not understood or wrongly understood.
An specific set of both physical and psychological reactions can occur when one reads past words he does not understand. Going on past a word that was not understood gives one a distinctly blank feeling or a washed-out feeling. A “not-there” feeling and a sort of nervous hysteria (excessive anxiety) can follow that. The confusion or inability to grasp or learn comes after going past a word that the person did not have defined and understood.
The misunderstood word is much more important than the other barriers. The misunderstood word establishes lack of aptitude; this is what psychologists have been trying to test for years without recognizing what it was. Studying past misunderstood words produces such a vast range of mental effects that it is the prime factor involved with stupidity and many other unwanted conditions.
There are two specific phenomena which stem from misunderstood words.
When a person misunderstands a word, the section right after that word is a blank in his memory.
You can always trace back to the word just before the blank, get it understood and find miraculously that the former blank area is not now blank in the material you are studying.
It is pure magic. Have you ever had the experience of coming to the end of a page and realizing you didn’t know what you had read? Somewhere earlier on that page you went past a word that you had no definition for or an incorrect definition for.
Here is an example: “It was found that when the crepuscule arrived the children were quieter and when it was not present, they were much livelier.” What happens is you think you do not understand the whole idea, but the inability to understand comes entirely from the one word you could not define: crepuscule, which means twilight or darkness. Now, knowing that definition, re-read this paragraph before going on.
A misunderstood definition or a not-comprehended definition or an undefined word can even cause a person to give up studying a subject or analyzing material. Records go unreviewed, research is not finished, time passes and deadlines come and go. The lawyer finds herself in trouble, and wants to blame someone for her plight. She may begin to think that she is in the wrong business, or the wrong firm, or that she isn’t cut out for knowledge work.
There is a definite sequence of actions following a misunderstood word. There are important emotional manifestations of this phenomena which are tied to the apparent “stress” one experiences in the practice of law or any other complex subject. When a word is not grasped, the person then goes into a non-comprehension, or “blankness” of things immediately after. This is followed by the individual’s solution for the blank condition, which is to individuate from it – meaning to separate himself from it and withdraw from involvement with it.
This is followed by his finding ways he has been “wronged” by others, in order to justify his actions, and by complaints, faultfinding and a “look-what-you-did-to-me” attitude. These factors justify, in the student’s mind, a departure or blowing off the action or effort that was underway. We have actually seen lawyers abandon their practices due to this simple, but insidious, phenomena.
Remedying misunderstood words.
The first ingredient to the solution of misunderstood words and the phenomena they cause is to catch, or detect, the fact that you have gone past a word, term or phrase you did not understand. This can be accomplished with ease, by simply understanding the phenomena described above and recognizing what causes it. When you find yourself troubled by your ability to read something — particularly if you were doing well up to a certain point — is time to go back and find the word you went past without fully understanding it. The second step is to get that word cleared up, meaning that you learn all the relevant definitions of the word so that you have a full conceptual understanding of the word. The third step is to continue studying from just before that point and see whether you feel better, more alert, more interested and more able to smoothly absorb what follows. If not, you must re-examine whether you have fully “cleared” (meaning defined and understood) that word in your mind, and whether there were yet other misunderstood words.
Until lately, adhering to this practice meant that to be effective, one must have had a dictionary at hand while studying. There may be a need for several dictionaries, and in our firm we collected dictionaries for specialized subjects such as finance, engineering, medicine, aeronautics, insurance, seamanship and a host of other subjects. In present times, the process of clearing words as you go is beyond simple.
Let us prove this to you. Read this sentence:
The patient presents with comorbidity and signs of Munchausen Syndrome.
Now, right-click on each of the unusual words in the above sentence, starting with the word “comorbid.” (You may have to highlight the entire word first, depending upon what kind of browser (such as Safari, Firefox or Chrome) you are using. You will probably see an option to look up that word, or you may see the actual definition in a pop-up window. What could be easier? This is a wonderful aspect of working in a paperless environment. You can instantly clear words as you work through material. This will even work on scanned PDF documents, so long as they have been OCR-ed. (The term OCR refers to Optical Character Recognition, which is a process we run on scanned PDF documents to make them searchable, copyable as text, and to allow you to instantly clear words within them).
Try highlighting the phrase ‘Munchenhausen Syndrome” and right-clicking on that to look up the phrase rather than just a single word. Once you’ve cleared all the words, does the sentence make a great deal more sense to you? If not, there were probably words in the definitions themselves that you didn’t fully understand, so you may find yourself clearing chains of words to get on top of a confusing passage and be able to work with it in a meaningful way.
Lack of Mass
When we learn to study (whether we are studying a subject or analyzing a disorganized collection of records) we can profit greatly by understanding the amazing relationship between mass and the significance of a subject. By mass we mean the actual physical objects, the things of life. The significance of a subject is the meaning or ideas or theory of it. Education attempted in the absence of the mass with which the material is involved is hard on a person.
If you were studying about tractors, the mass would be a tractor. You could study a textbook all about tractors, how to operate the controls, the different types of attachments that can be used – in other words, all the significance – but can you imagine how little you would understand if you had never actually seen a tractor?
Such an absence of mass can actually make a student feel squashed. It can make him feel bent, sort of dizzy, sort of dead, bored and exasperated.
Photographs or motion pictures can be helpful because they represent a promise or hope of the mass. But if one is studying about tractors, the printed page and the spoken word are not a substitute for an actual tractor!
Educating a person in a mass that he does not have and which is not available can produce some uncomfortable and distracting physical reactions. If you were trying to teach someone all about tractors but you did not show him any tractors or let him experience the mass of a tractor, he would wind up with a face that felt squashed, with headaches and with his stomach feeling funny. He would feel dizzy from time to time and often his eyes would hurt.
Remedying an absence of mass.
As not everyone studying has the actual mass available, useful tools to remedy a lack of mass have been developed. These come under the subject of demonstration. Demonstration comes from the Latin demonstrare: “to point out, show, prove. ”The Chambers 20th Century Dictionary includes the following definition of demonstrate: “to teach, expound or exhibit by practical means.”
In order to supply mass, one would do a demonstration. One way of accomplishing this is with a “demonstration kit.” A “demo kit,” as it is called, is composed of various small objects such as corks, caps, paper clips, pen tops, rubber bands, etc. A student can use a demo kit to represent the things he is studying and help him to understand concepts. If a student ran into something he couldn’t quite figure out, demonstrating the idea with a demo kit would assist him to understand it. Anything can be demonstrated with a demo kit: ideas, objects, interrelationships or how something works. One simply uses these small objects to represent the various parts of something he is studying about. The objects can be moved about in relation to each other to show the mechanics and actions of a given concept.
Another means of demonstrating something is by sketching. Have you ever had to diagram a published decision in order to understand it? Have you ever made a diagram of the parties in a case in order to understand who was who and who worked for whom, or who was driving or occupying each car in order to understand an automobile collision case? Of course you have. This was just a manifestation of your need for mass so that you could understand the relationships of the parties of the context of the information.
Thus we see that keeping track of facts and putting them into an understandable structure requires you to sketch, diagram, visit the scene, handle the broken part or a specimen of the same, observe photos or make graphs or charts of data. Calendars are useful to understand the “mass” of chronological relationships, for they convey a sense of physical reality.
Too Steep A Gradient
A gradient is a gradual approach to something taken step by step, level by level, each step or level being, of itself, easily attainable – so that finally, complicated and difficult activities can be achieved with relative ease. The term gradient also applies to each of the steps taken in such an approach.
When one hits too steep a gradient in studying a subject, a sort of confusion or mental unsteadiness results. This is the second barrier to study.
Remedying too steep a gradient.
The remedy for too steep a gradient is to cut back the gradient. Find out when you were not confused about what you were studying and then find out what new action you undertook. Find out what you felt you understood well just before you became confused. You will discover that there is something in this area – the part you had felt you understood well – which you did not really understand. When this is cleared up, you will be able to progress again.
When a person is found to be terribly confused on the second action he was supposed to know or do, it is safe to assume that he never really understood the first action. This barrier is most recognizable and most applicable when engaged in doingness – performing some action or activity – as opposed to just academic or intellectual study.
Lack of Interest
Why is it so easy to tear through a Stephen King novel 800 pages in length but it may seem nearly impossible to read 30 pages of email? The answer is obvious: interest holds attention.
How can you make yourself interested in 200 pages of medical records? How can you make yourself interested in 30 published opinions that may or may not contain, deep in the text of the opinions, the key legal authority and arguments that can win your case? There is an easy answer to this question: you must consciously recognize that your survival as a professional depends upon learning the material before you.
This is not a matter of having the discipline to force yourself to do anything. This is a matter of using logic and reason rather than undesirable reactions to guide your actions.
Remedying lack of interest.
Amazing as it may sound, everything is potentially interesting, particularly if you free yourself of preconceived notions about the material. Disinterest comes from believing that the material is not valuable because it is not understandable. At the core of disinterest lies confusion.
Picture yourself knowing. One simple way to stimulate interest is to consider for a few moments the real and specific benefits that you will enjoy (such as reduced stress, improved performance, career success and so forth) if you truly know the material in question. Compare those benefits to the disadvantages (humiliation, failure, embarrassment, career damage) from not knowing the material. Then you will begin to understand the importance of the material in concrete terms why the material is important, and your interest in it will begin to climb automatically.
Confusing Memorization With Understanding
Many educational systems encourage a student to actually withdraw himself from the study subject and set up in its place mental machinery which can store and retreive sentences and phrases. A person can set up mental machinery when he becomes disinterested in what he is doing but feels he has to continue doing it.
We now have “the quick student who somehow never applies what he learns,” also called a glib student.
The specific phenomenon then is that a student can study some words and give them back and yet be no participant to the action. The student gets A+ on exams but can’t apply the data. Later, he finds employment at Godfrey | Johnson, P.C. and soon feels as though he has fallen into a meat grinder, because in our firm, you simply can’t “fake it till you make it.” We hunt like predators for signs of a lack of understanding — and so do our opponents, as well as judges and clients!
One example of this glibness may be found in the following dialogue that occurred some time ago in our firm:
Associate: “We’re having trouble trying to decide how to answer a troublesome interrogatory.”
Supervisor: “Oh, really? What does the interrogatory ask?”
Associate: “I didn’t memorize it.”
Supervisor: “That’s okay. I don’t need it verbatim. Just give me the general subject matter.”
Associate (blushing): “Ummm . . . I don’t remember.”
Supervisor: “Are you kidding? You really have no idea what the question asks for?”
Associate: Well, ah, . . . ummmm…
Supervisor: Did you read it?
Associate: Yes! Absolutely! I swear I did!
This conversation really happened. It is no wonder the associate couldn’t figure out a good way to answer the interrogatory — she didn’t know what it said, or what information it sought. She hadn’t read it; she had merely looked at the page without understanding what was on it. We later learned that she was swimming in an ocean of misunderstood words. She lived in a state of chronic panic and confusion for a year and then resigned from the practice of law altogether.
Memorization is sometimes a fantastically valuable tool. Many times the memorization of a key rule or passage of a published opinion or a key passage in a record can empower you in ways that defy the imagination. What if you had memorized the full text of the Rules of Evidence and could recite the rules verbatim, on command, in hearings? You would have a major tactical advantage in any discussion of the admissibility of evidence, and you would likely gain a great deal of credibility in the eyes of the judge. These are good things, and you will find, if you try it out, that memorizing the Rules of Evidence is easier than you think, for they are far less voluminous than the Rules of Civil Procedure. Memorizing the most important Rules of Civil Procedure is also a worthy objective. (As an aside, those rules which are worthy of memorization are Rules 1, 6, 9, 11, 12, 16, 26-36, 45, 50, 56, 57, 58, 60 and Colorado Local Rule 121.)
The point of memorization is to have the exact text in your mind, but knowing the words is not the same as understanding them. Thus, memorization is no substitute for a full conceptual understanding of what you have memorized.
The blank wall technique for rote memorization. Learning to memorize text is much easier than you may believe, and we have a number of tools in our repertoire that make rote memorization easier and faster. One such tool is the “blank wall” technique that is used by many Hollywood entertainers: You sit in a chair, back erect, about two feet away from a blank wall with the information to be memorized in your lap. You then look at the wall and try to recite the material, looking down at the actual text only when you flub or go blank. You re-read the sentence you’re on and then look back up to the wall and continue reciting. You do this with normal volume and with the intention of broadcasting the material to the wall effectively. It may sound like an odd practice, but it makes memorizing text fast and easy.
Retention And The Value Of Repetition
It is simply necessary to read some items more than once. The greater the number of times you have been through something, the more certain you will be about it. “Number of times through equals certainty,” is a slogan we use. This means that the more times you read something, the more you understand it.
As an experiment, try reading this Policy at least twice. Even though you may roll your eyes at the idea, make yourself do it, and see whether you don’t actually pick up some things you missed the first time through. If you’re not inclined to do so, keep this one fact in mind: It is a virtual certainty that you will be quizzed on this policy to be sure you know it cold.
That is why you would want to read this more than once — the experimental nature of repeating your reading of this bulletin could be seen as a form of secondary (but even more valuable) gain.
Why Do We Test You?
So that we — and you — can be freed of the mistaken belief that you know something when in fact you do not. That mistaken belief can bring you to ruin at the worst possible times, causing serious harm to you, our clients and the Firm. We test you for the same reason that factoris have quality control departments: to detect and correct sub-standard resources and products in order to prevent loss of business or injury.
In addition, there is no such thing as permanent learning. We all forget things with the passage of time. Even skills we continue to use have a way of changing over time from what we learned initially to what we end up doing much later.
In some cases this is a good thing. For example, if you were required to perform a manual repetitive task for an extended period, you would find ways to become quicker and more efficient. Some of these changes would happen accidentally (for it can be said that learning results from random effort), while other changes might come from methodical experimentation or realizing that there were wasted steps in what you were doing.
This can also be a bad thing, for this evolution in methodology often leads to skipping steps that are needed for reasons you forgot or never fully understood. There are many procedures used in a law firm such as ours that have the superficial appearance of being inefficient but which are designed as they are because there are counter-intuitive on unknown benefits to the manner in which the procedures are designed. It is for this reason that you may be asked to re-study a procedure or otherwise be corrected in the way you do it. Not all “evolved efficiencies” are useful. The key to understanding when changes to procedure are desirable is to completely understand all of the reasons for all of the steps included in a procedure.
How We Confirm Your Understanding
Never be resistant to being tested. Your clients are counting on you, as are we, to have an absolute mastery of the information needed to provide exemplary legal services.
When a person becomes resentful in response to being tested on material, we know that there is a reason. The feeling of upset that sometimes results from being tested arises from a perceived invasion of privacy. Some people believe that their right to keep secret that which they do not know or understand is a fundamental right. “How dare you test me?” exclaim the ignorant. “What I don’t know is none of your business!”
There is another way to approach the subject of being tested: You can place your professional standards above your fear, your pride in your abilities above your ego, and your devotion to finding and eradicating your weaknesses above your need for instant gratification. There is no shame in having others in the firm detect gaps in your knowledge so that you can remedy them. There is shame in nurturing and concealing your own ignorance in order to maintain a false appearance of knowledge that you do not really possess.
Humility is one cornerstone of learning, and learning is the path to greatness.
We check for comprehension of key ideas and “spot-check” your understanding of particular words. For example, if you read this policy and were to be checked on it, you could be asked to list the primary barriers to study or the phenomena associated with misunderstood words. You might be asked the definition of “crepuscule,” “comorbidity” or other words used here to make sure you haven’t gone past words that are frequently misunderstood. If you stare off into space or stumble with your responses, we assume that your understanding of the words and the material is incomplete, and we ask you to re-study the material.
“Go back and read it again,” is a phrase you will hear often in a top-flight litigation firm.
Just as an elite soldier may be asked to repeat specialized tasks again and again until he can perform them in his sleep, we often drill ourselves and each other to make sure we don’t stumble when it matters most: when analyzing, planning, evaluating and communicating under pressure in the world of high-stakes litigation, where we are expected to comply to the letter with complex and time-sensitive rules while facing attack after attack mounted by skillful adversaries and launching attacks of our own to gain the upper hand in a lawsuit.
More Good News
There is a true pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow: If you adhere strictly to the material set forth above as well as our case-management methods, you will eventually rule the practice of law. You will find it easier and easier to vanquish your opponents and distinguish yourself in the eyes of your colleagues and your clients. With time, your compensation and job satisfaction will improve markedly. We guarantee that you will never regret applying the information you have learned in this policy.
It is not at all an exaggeration to state that the most important thing you will ever learn is how to learn.