TEN TRUTHS ABOUT LEARNING HOW TO LEARN

Over the 55 years I was involved in a plaintiffs trial practice I gave literally hundreds of talks around the country and even internationally. I learned that one can share unique and important ideas about successful plaintiffs trial practice and about 10%, at best, of the lawyers in attendance will effectively implement them. The overwhelming majority of them will listen, think that it is an interesting idea and then promptly forget about it returning to their usual practices. Those who do decide to employ the ideas are too often looking for a “quick fix” without fully internalizing the concept. Others attempt to put it into practice, do so poorly and abandon the idea as not being worthwhile.

Why does this happen? Human nature doesn’t change and there are some psychological barriers to our learning process. Here are some.

  1. First impression bias -The person presenting the talk doesn’t fit the listeners idea of what a qualified lawyer should look or sound like. There is a sort of mental “what could this person possibly offer that’s worth listening to?” The truth is great trial lawyers come in both genders and in all sizes shapes and appearances. It is a fundamental mistake to judge a book by its cover when it comes to people. Learn to be a great listener and one with an open mind to something new.
  2.  Superiority bias  If the speaker is someone who the listener knows, there can be a tendency to believe that the listener is a far better lawyer than the speaker. The reaction is not believing this person has anything to teach me. However, we often find surprises in strange places. Listen to what the speaker says and give it the opportunity to teach something new you can use.
  3. Complacency barrier Too many lawyers are satisfied with their skills and have an inflated viewpoint as to their need for improvement. The idea that what they’ve been doing has worked up to now and therefore there’s little motivation to learn something new or change. Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. There is no staying where you are now. If you are not moving forward you are moving backwards.
  4. Fear of the unknown Barrier: Probably the most common resistance to implementing new ideas is the fear of failure and embarrassment. Too often lawyers start with the idea and in their nervousness quickly revert back to what is comfortable for them which is doing what they always do. Of all of the reasons for not adopting new ideas, this is the most common and most difficult. The quality of a great trial lawyer is the courage to act outside of their comfort zone. To be willing to try new ideas even if you fail because experience is the greatest teacher.
  5. Ego bias  Too many lawyers have carried over from their law school training the idea that trials are intellectual struggles. They see themselves as more intelligent than other lawyers. If the speaker doesn’t meet their test of intelligence or if the idea doesn’t sound intellectual enough they reject it. While simplicity, brevity and truthfulness are the most powerful tools plaintiff lawyers possess, these intellectuals are disdainful of all three, but especially simplicity. Unless lawyers learn to think like average human beings think, they will never connect fully with jurors or people.
  6. Short cut barrier A large percentage of listeners are looking for shortcuts or magic formulas which will miraculously result in success. They’re convinced that successful plaintiffs lawyers have some “secrets” which if they would just share with the listener they too would be successful. When they hear ideas at a seminar, they look for the short cut way to implement them. They don’t practice putting it into proper implementation. They don’t employ the entire concept because they’re looking for a shortened method. The truth is that for the overwhelming majority of us succeed through hard work. If you aren’t willing to work hard, you should plan on being an inferior trial lawyer.
  7. Emotional barrier  There can be an emotional barrier to implementing good ideas one hears or reads about. That’s the barrier of lack of self-confidence. That’s the idea that while the speaker can do “it” the listener would never be able to do it. This is very similar to fear of the unknown, but a more basic issue. People who are lacking in confidence in themselves or have a poor mental image of themselves have fundamental challenges they must learn to overcome. Learning to improve our self confidence and self image comes from repeated practice until one becomes more confident about it.
  8. Mental distraction barrier Some listeners simply aren’t paying enough attention to fully understand the concept being offered. They are distracted by other thoughts or actions. They may hear only part of the concept and reject it as not making sense or they incorrectly apply it. The only obvious solution to this problem is to decide to listen and pay attention or don’t plan on learning anything new.
  9. Strongly Established Habits  With lawyers who have been in practice for a long period of time, it is some times difficult to change behavior. They have established ways in which they present their case, talk or conduct the trial. When they do attempt to implement new ideas they too often start out, but very quickly revert back to their old habits especially when they are nervous. One solution is to put the new ideas in writing as reminders when presenting. It’s important to fully and correctly implement new ideas and not abandon the effort part way into the presentation.
  10. Lack of strong motivation to improve  Let’s face it. There are those lawyers who really lack motivation to implement new and improved ideas. They are entertained by listening to the speaker, but they have no motivation to actually do it. They are content with being average or mediocre lawyers. The solution for these lawyers is to find another way to make a living in fairness to their clients.

I hope you will be willing to listen with an open mind to new ideas and, if they appear reasonable, implement them. Learning how to learn is a skill.

About Paul Luvera

Plaintiff trial lawyer for 50 years. Past President of the Inner Circle of Advocates & Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. Member American Board of Trial Advocates, American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy, International Society of Barristers, member of the National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame & speaker at Spence Trial College
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