Posted by: wasim | 20th Sep, 2007

Learning to manage two difficult law school personalities

as-salaamu alaikum

More people enjoy law school than care to admit it.  I am actually really enjoying myself, especially as my second year has brought new challenges beyond learning how to give a professor what he wants during a 3 hour exam.  In fact, second year has been amazing and exactly what I had hoped for, giving me the opportunity to know my classmates better and participate in a clinic. 

Since high school, I have been active in student groups.  Over the years, I’ve learned how to work with many different types of people, with varying sensitivities and tempraments, on national and local boards.  So I would like to think the following thoughts are coming from someone with substantial experience working in teams. 

On the whole, everyone in law school is very bright and reasonable.  Most listen to each other and are genuinely well-adjusted people.  There have been a few instances however (I am not referring to anyone in specific) where I have noticed certain personality traits that I thought I would never see after high school graduation.  In this post I’d like to point out two difficult personalities that I’ve encountered in the last year:

1. Impotent yet opinionated. 

It can be a real challenge working with people who assume that they know better than everyone else, but lack any position, pedigree or expertise to be authoritative.  The opinionated-yet-impotent person can be very difficult to reason with, because most disagreements result in crisis: the discourse polarizes quickly, and language becomes condescending (“I just can’t fathom how you could ever think x“).  Usually other students are brought into the discussion under the pretense of acting as mediators, even though they are frequently invited to take one person’s side and “gang up” on the other conversant.  I think the discussion becomes tense quickly because the opinionated person is often plagued by insecurity.  They compensate for their lack of authority by throwing a fit.   It is so difficult to watch.

In more general terms, there are some law students who have forgotten when to seek compromise.  I am convinced there are many genuinely good people, but perhaps the competitive nature of the 1L year has changed a handful of us.  I appreciate the need for an adversarial attitude in disagreements — and certainly every attorney needs to know how to be confrontational when necessary.  The problem, though, is that confrontation is frequently unnecessary in student organization work.  I still remember what Professor Schecter said during 1L orientation last year, about learning how to “turn off” our lawyering skils.  He said that football players don’t go down the sidewalk tackling everyone they come across.  Similarly lawyers need to know when to stop being adversarial, and when to seek compromise — in practice and in law school.  

The irony in all this is that it is easy to hold to one position unrelentingly.  It takes a mature, reflective and strategic person to identify places where compromise will actually benefit them, either at that specific moment or some time in the future.

 2. “I speak my mind”

I have also noticed that some people advertise themselves as those who “speak their minds.”  This is an interesting phenomenon, since I always thought that everyone had the right to say what was on their mind.   Why is the person who advertises himself with this statement unique?   

With time I’ve come to understand that the declaration “I speak my mind” is actually just a euphemism.  It is essentially an attempt at obtaining a personality-based license to be rude to others.  Some people, unfortunately, think that good lawyering involves personally offending the other side.  They think that being careful with their words shows weakness, and that to be as direct as possible is the best way to show strength.  When disagreements arise, they “speak their mind” and cut the other person down, usually with some sort of ad hominem remark or condescending tone. 

So my point is that I’ve noticed some (younger) law students who will eventually need to learn to litigate without being rude.  I doubt every successful litigator has a crass, srcew-you attitude that alienates the others in his firm and the legal community generally.   I am sure many do very well while maintaining (largely) positive relationships with their opposing counsel.  

 Unfortunately, most of us in law school either avoid the folks who “speak their minds” or have bought their excuse that somehow their behavior is acceptable because they’ve defined themselves as rude people. 


wasim, i like your site, thanks for sharing your thoughts! random question for you… can you think of a couple of modern films that give a *fair* portrayal of the muslim worldview? films that would help an outsider understand something about islam without having it twisted? i’m thinking feature films rather than documentary, but either way… thanks! -alex

sure, no better place to go than most iranian cinema. i really enjoy work by majid majidi, who made the films “children of heaven” and “color of paradise.” both films were huge hits among for persian-speaking, largely muslim audiences. i think it would be valuable for someone interested in islam to watch these films because they allow islam to take a backseat to a real storyline. the films don’t have much action, but both have really deep messages.

i am not sure, though that there is a single muslim worldview, but if there is one, many films by majid majidi portray it well.

by the way, thanks for reading. i had no idea anyone else wandered onto this site.

Plenty of people wonder this site 🙂

Your comments about those who let everyone know they “Always speak their mind” is so true. 🙂

Great point on those who “speak there mind”, I agree that those people tend to use that as a license to be rude. Bravo

Agreed with the “speak your mind” comments. Nice point

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