Category Archives: Self Improvement

Guilford College President uniquely prepared to prepare students uniquely — intelligence that is not artificial

Jane Fernandes’ Blog

Gradually, articles written about her, her own writing, and her speeches and oral presentations are showing us more of Jane Fernandes’ personal story.

The President of Guilford College has been deaf from birth. So was her mother. Over time, we have learned that

  • When Jane was a small child, her mother would give her a few coins or a small bill and send her to the store, charging her to buy some item, pay for it, and return with the correct change — without the store keeper realizing that Jane could not hear.
  • Jane attended public schools and after school, her mother would ask “What questions did you ask at school today?” (“My mother knew that if I asked my own questions and found the answers to them, I would have powerful preparation for life.”)
  • Throughout her school days, Jane’s mother caused her to take piano lessons. When Jane complained, her mother sent her to a concert. (“I sat very close to the stage and watched Van Cliburn. As he played, I saw his soul. I saw what chords meant.”)
  • In college, Jane majored in French and spent a year in France.
  • At Guilford College, Jane celebrates the Eastern Music Festival, which is held on Guilford’s campus.

There’s more to tell, but you tell me:

  • Is that a practical liberal arts education or what?
  • Can you imagine a better preparation for a 21st Century educator?
  • Can you imagine a better orientation for a leader in a learning community at this moment?
  • What core capabilities do you want today’s emerging adults to have for what’s coming?

And how about that mother?

Bullets: how to fire’em



Do you like to look up there and see a slide with about 5 bullets, all words & a lot of single spacing?

Who really likes complete sentences anymore? Words? Who’s got the time?




Berkshire Hathaway’s Munger speaking to lawyers, law firms

munger-modal-ebookgraphic-210x210Charlie Munger, the celebrated vice-chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, has gotten the status of guru, especially among writers about investing.

Many do not recall that he is a lawyer and founded one of the most admirable American law firms, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; or that he was persuaded to quit practicing law by Warren Buffet. Munger says quitting was one of the best things he did. Aspects of law practice such as measuring out your life in time sheets, did not suit him. Munger has thought and spoken well about the profession —from both perspectivews – as lawyer and as quit-lawyer .

Shane Parrish at Farnum Street, an exceptionally good blog, is a leader among Munger admirers. He recently called attention to the commencement address Munger gave at USC Law School in 2007. Parrish says the speech contains so many of Munger’s core ideas that it represents “Munger’s Operating System” for life.

Maybe so. That address is a string of jewels about career development for lawyers and regarding law firm management.

Here are four nuggets lifted from there. There are more at Parrish’s piece; and more yet in the address itself. But, start with these.

Lifelong learning

[Y]ou’re hooked for lifetime learning, and without lifetime learning you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here…if civilization can progress only when it invents the method of invention, you can progress only when you learn the method of learning


If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are, you’re going to crater immediately. So doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.

Work that excites you

Another thing that I found is an intense interest of the subject is indispensable if you are really going to excel. I could force myself to be fairly good in a lot of things, but I couldn’t be really good in anything where I didn’t have an intense interest. So to some extent, you’re going to have to follow me. If at all feasible you want to drift into doing something in which you really have a natural interest


The last idea that I want to give you as you go out into a profession that frequently puts a lot of procedure and a lot of precautions and a lot of mumbo jumbo into what it does, this is not the highest form which civilization can reach. The highest form which civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust. Not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another. That’s the way an operating room works at the Mayo Clinic.

If a bunch of lawyers were to introduce a lot of process, the patients would all die. So never forget when you’re a lawyer that you may be rewarded for selling this stuff but you don’t have to buy it. In your own life what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust. And if your proposed marriage contract has 47 pages, my suggestion is do not enter.

That last one is the key to operating a law firm. True law firms are professional associations whose members share professional values out of which grow a kind of trust that cannot be achieved by policies, rules or procedures.

Trust among law partners creates real law firms. The rest are “legal services organizations”.

Best education for what is coming – “practical liberal arts”

experiential learningPoliticians are recasting education and putting their chips on preparing students for jobs.

This has prompted lots of commentary by thinkers and writers who disagree. They say:

  • If students study what they have a passion for, they will be better prepared for both work and life than if they merely seek to create credentials for specific jobs.
  • Over the next twenty years machines will take away most of the compensated work people are doing now. Jobs in the future will be different from most of the jobs now.
  • In the future, if not now, the most compelling need will be to know how to manage change, to learn new jobs, and to reinvent yourself, over and over. The greatest need: know how to learn.
  • Compensated work in the future will focus on what machines can’t do. That means kinds of work that are not routine or repeating. For most, it probably means that our work will require understanding and interacting with people. This will include:
    • How to interact & work with others
    • How to compromise
    • How to deal with rejection, failure, change
    • How to know what you don’t know and where and how to find new knowledge and skills
    • Understanding how people & societies work
  • Self-aware people with enthusiasm for learning will be more valuable in the kinds of work that’s coming than the ones who were trained for specific functions in the current workplace.

The best way to get what’s needed looks to me like immersion in a residential learning community. The Internet seems a good way to acquire knowledge and some skills, but guided participation in a community of learners is the best way to awaken and practice a passion for learning and an understanding of people.

The president of Guilford College calls this “the practical liberal arts.” Her vision aligns with Nereus Mendenhall, Guilford’s legendary Civil War president’s vision: “To produce men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

You can’t legislate that. But you can bet on it.

Socrates was thinking about lawyers one day

Socrates said:Socrates

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

Not every item on calendars and lists of tasks is fruitful. Nor every client or matter.

“Busy” is getting a bad name. I mean bad.

This insight has been found to be high in Omega3.


Creativity and the Practice of Law

Is what lawyers do “creative”? Recently, I heard a speaker say,that what lawyers do is solve problems and problem solving is creative. Yeah, but maybe that just restates the question.creativity bulb

  • When a person identifies and restates the law applicable to a static set of facts, is that creative?
  • Is legal process management creative?
  • Is counseling clients about possible actions, tactics and strategies in developing circumstances creative?
  • Is advocacy creative?

Do the answers to these questions point to a possible approach to defining “the practice of law,” or at least to dividing lines among types of law practice?

The Art of Thought outlines 4 stages of creativity, which are described at Brain Pickings and also at  Farnam Street, recounted in The Creativity Question, and critiqued in Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights.

   Stages of creativity or not, they sound like a method of practice for certain types of legal work. The four stages are:

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Illumination
  4. Verification.

The ongoing process of disaggregating certain law work from what lawyers do and giving it to non-lawyers, raises the question: what functions are not susceptible to disaggregation? And also, disaggregation from what? Is a kind of creativity at the core of this?

The Power of Practice

A founding purpose of Midlaw & Divers Items was to learn about blogs. And the immediate learning was that they take time and discipline.  Not an Act but a Habit

In my case, making a rough commitment to post something once a week or so is a burden, although it has paid off in modest ways. Unexpectedly, the continuing business about hummus has put me in touch with people from all over. The spots about 19th Century lawyers fed into a presentation at the UNC Festival of Legal Learning that put me in touch with others. And the stuff about law firms has led into presentations to North Carolina Bar Association groups and more connections.

Also, writing things down has forced me to examine them at a different level and I have learned from that.

This points to two themes sounded here before. First, is the value of the “examined life,” which was Socrates’ point, later  applied to law practice by Jim Williams and commented on here. Second, is the primacy of practice over inspiration – an Aristotle point, carried forward here some time back.

A worthwhile article posted this week by Maria Popova, entitled The Pace of Productivity and How to Master Your Creative Routine, emphasizes the power of sustained practice. She quotes Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Popova draws from Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn Glei. She also quotes Glei, quoting Gretchen Rubin quoting Anthony Trollope:

 “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.

All of this arises from my fretting about making no posts here for three or four weeks, while I have been diverted by other things.

What would Aristotle say? Or, Socrates? Or, Trollope?

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

Bryan Garner, the legal writing oracle, has now expanded his sway, publishing the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

In an interview, he says that most of us believe that we are good writers. This arises, he says, from a psychological phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect , which, boiled down, says that people who are incompetent in a particular domain tend to overrate their abilities because they don’t really know what is good, while people who are good tend to underrate their abilities because they have higher standards.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Dunning-Kruger Effect

So, bad writers think their stuff is good. Good writers think their stuff is bad.

For legal writing, the bad writers are wrong and the good writers are right. Multiple drafts and different perspectives are always needed.

What is truly amazing is how good a draft may seem in the moment it is written and how bad it can look after it sits for a few days.

Hauntingly, Dunning and Kruger quote Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

 (There are exceptions. I’m thinking about posting this right now. It just feels ready.)

“Positivity Resonance” and 10 Virtues for the Modern Age — Law Firm Management 101

UNC professor and positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has written a new book that centers on the insight that emotions are not “private events, confined to one person’s mind and skin.” Instead, as between two people, “your respective neural firings come to mirror one another.” When the mirrored emotion is love, the neural firings are positive, and

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson

a biological wave of good feeling and mutual care that rolls through two or more brains and bodies at once. Your body needs these micro-moments of positivity resonance just like it needs good food and physical activity.

Our latest evidence tells us that micro-moments of positivity resonance fortify the connection between your brain and your heart, making you healthier day-by-day.  Decades of research has shown that people who are more socially connected live longer and healthier lives.

Dr. Fredrickson’s new book is Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become.

Fredrickson is focused on love. That’s where the money is. But her core points are Law Firm Management 101: Emotions are not private events. Emotions in one person resonate in those around them. Positive emotions resonate to better effect than negative ones. (We need an endowed professor and a research program for this?)

In a moment of cosmic synchronicity, another positive thinker, Alain de Botton, has published Ten Virtues for the Modern Age coincidentally with Love 2.0.   And de Botton’s  ten virtues read to me like a list of qualities needed by members of law firms in order to generate and sustain positivity resonance.

Here’s the list. You can go over to Botton’s School of Life for the commentary. school_of_life

  1. Resilience
  2. Empathy
  3. Patience
  4. Sacrifice
  5. Politeness
  6. Humor
  7. Self-awareness
  8. Forgiveness
  9. Hope
  10. Confidence.

For your practical exercise, please answer these questions:

  • What needs to be added to this list to make it more relevant to law firms? Or, taken away?
  • Can a law firm hire for these qualities?
  • Can a law firm train for these qualities? If so, how?

Nice phrase that. Positivity resonance.

Skills from the Past, for the Future — Lawyers and People

A while back, Pat Bassett, surveyed the current thinking among educators about “the skills and values that will be necessary for students to succeed and prosper in [the] turbulent and ever-changing times” of the 21st Century.

He concluded at the time that there was remarkable agreement that those skills are

  • character (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, and courage);
  • creativity and entrepreneurial spirit;                                                                                 collaboration
  • real-world problem-solving (filtering, analysis, and synthesis);
  • public speaking/communications;
  • teaming; and
  • leadership.

In The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner identifies “seven survival skills” for the 21st Century.They are:

  1. critical thinking and problem-solving;
  2. collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
  3. agility and adaptability;
  4. initiative and entrepreneurialism;
  5. effective oral and written communication;
  6. access and analyzing information;
  7. curiosity and imagination.

When I was reminded of these sources recently and looked back at them (there’s a Howard Gardner book as well, with the terrific title “Five Minds for the Future”), I was struck by how often these same skills are coming up now in discussions about law practice. The recent spate of commentary by Richard Susskind, Bruce MacEwen and Jordan Furlong covers much the same ground.

Most recently – in fact, hot off the presses – is the paper I wrote for UNC Festival of Legal Learning. In that paper, I looked at North Carolina lawyers in the 19th Century; drew conclusions about attributes they shared; and observed that the “turbulent and ever-changing times” of the 19th Century serve as a “distant mirror” for the turbulent and changing times of the 21st Century. Then (in that paper), I used the attributes of those 19th Century lawyers as the basis for suggesting management principles applicable to 21st Century lawyers and law firms.

Mirabile dictu, the same basic set of skills came up yet again (in an only slightly different form).

(The Winslow paper is A Distant Mirror: How 19th Century Lawyers from Guilford and Edgecombe Counties Are Models for the Next Generation of Lawyers & Firms Worldwide.)