Vail Daily column: The education never stops
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series about the education of a lawyer.
Education is not confined to specific buildings or certain years of our existence. It is a constant process that requires a lifetime of dedication and an open, fertile mind. The principle applies to all humans, but is particularly important in connection with the study of law. The legal canon is a fluid entity that morphs each time a new decision is rendered. This is true not just on the macro level, but as to seeming minutiae as well. Each new interpretation of a statute, even as to one word, can have profound effects on the outcome of a lawsuit. In the face of the ever-shifting world, a lawyer can learn to adapt or else perish, metaphorically if not literally.
Our Only Constant
While the sheer volume of knowledge that a nascent attorney must internalize can be daunting, learning is not reserved solely for the neophytes. Indeed, the zeal with which young lawyers soak up new information gives them an advantage over their more established legal counterparts, many of whom believe that they learned all they needed to know decades ago. As the dynamic world passes by these codgers, they rail against evolution to their peril. To shut off one’s brain to new inputs is a dangerous, irrational and ultimately fruitless endeavor: Change is our only constant.
Experience is an important form of education, but simply accumulating years on the job is no substitute for active learning. Each day presents new opportunities for enlightenment. These chances can take many forms: a substantive legal theory, a novel approach to cross-examination, a better way to interact with a peer or subordinate, or introspection that leads to personal psychological growth. With each dawn bringing new knowledge, days become years become decades and an enviable collection of wisdom has been amassed.
The lawyers whom I most admire are as keen to learn as kids. They are secure and smart enough to intuitively understand that it is impossible to be an expert on everything. They do not fear new developments, but are instead quick to seek to understand how changed circumstances impact a case. Typically pragmatic sorts, they welcome advances in technology, especially those that can be leveraged for the client’s benefit. A Luddite myself, it was humbling to have my mentors using smartphones and Blackberrys before I did, particularly as these devices augmented their already considerable esteem. In the face of the growing pains inherent in the endeavor, my mentors adopted electronic document management systems and other implements of the modern legal office. A conservative bunch in general, they nonetheless understood that remaining static was not a viable option.
Despite coming of age in a traditional litigation environment, my mentors embraced the possibilities of alternative modes of dispute resolution, including mediation. Raised in a macho world of zero-sum legal wrangling, they educated themselves on other worldviews and came to understand how pursuing these other avenues could lead to higher client and attorney satisfaction.
The other side of the spectrum is populated by arrogant dinosaurs. Their views on race, gender, and sexual identity are tragicomic. Each new advance in social justice or scientific inquiry is heralded as evidence of the world’s decline. The idea of admitting a mistake, no matter how minor, is laughable. These are the lawyers who believe that being a vituperative viper is the only way to garner success in the courtroom. An attorney of this stripe would likely rather be burned alive than resolve a case in mediation, which they view as the creation of a weak generation. I eagerly await the time that these dodos move to extinction. And, given the cyclical nature of life, I am desperate to avoid becoming one of these coots myself.
As a rolling stone gathers no moss so too does an active brain gather no cobwebs. Reading, writing, doing crosswords, going to lectures, playing Scrabble, seeking out experts and other forms of education are the ways to keep atrophy at bay until the day comes when we depart this mortal coil and a whole other plane of education begins.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.