Kids, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Grit And A Growth Mindset

Keith Lee

There seems to be a general lament among the elder generation of lawyers in regards to the quality of new law school graduates. Simultaneously, there is also a cacophony of complaints from recent law school graduates about the general state of the legal profession and the dissonance between what they felt they should have received from their law school education. See all the assorted “scamblawgs.”

The older generation’s complaint seems to be that Gen Y grads are, well, complaining too much. Gen Y needs to strap on their big-boy (or girl) pants and get on with it.

Gen Y grads seem to be saying they just haven’t been given the opportunity…

Despite being a recent Gen Y Law Grad myself… I have to agree with the older generation of lawyers. Put up or shut up, pound the pavement, press the flesh, get out there and make it happen. Nothing to lose means nothing but gain.

Success is not something that is handed to you. It requires long hours, hard work, and dedication. It requires fighting, passion, and sacrifice.

It requires grit. From Wired Science:

There are two interesting takeaways from this study. The first is that there’s a major contradiction between how we measure talent and the causes of talent. In general, we measure talent using tests of maximal performance. Think, for instance, of the NFL Combine: Players perform in short bursts (40 yard dash, short IQ test, catching drills, etc.) under conditions of high motivation. The purpose of the event is to see what players are capable of, to determine the scope of their potential. The problem with these tests, however, is that the real world doesn’t resemble the NFL Combine.  Instead, success in the real world depends on sustained performance, on being able to work hard at practice, and spend the weekend studying the playbook, and reviewing hours of game tape. Those are all versions of deliberate practice, and our ability to engage in such useful exercises largely depends on levels of grit. The problem, of course, is that grit can’t be measured in a single afternoon on a single field. (By definition, it’s a metric of personality that involves long periods of time.) The end result is that our flawed beliefs about talent have led to flawed tests of talent. Perhaps that explains why there is no “consistent statistical relationship between combine tests and professional football performance.” We need to a test that measures how likely people are to show up, not just how they perform once there.

The second takeaway involves the growing recognition of “non-cognitive” skills like grit and self-control. While such traits have little or nothing to do with intelligence (as measured by IQ scores), they often explain a larger share of individual variation when it comes to life success. It doesn’t matter if one is looking at retention rates at West Point or teacher performance within the Teach for America program or success in the spelling bee: Factors like grit are often the most predictive variables of real world performance. Thomas Edison was right: even genius is mostly just perspiration.

It’s the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is intimidated by obstacles, sees effort as fruitless, and takes criticism poorly. A growth mindset embraces challenges, sees effort as a means to achievement, and integrates criticism to improve performance. (You should really go read the whole post over by ex-lawyer Michael Richard, which sums up the research of Dr. Carol Dweck into the growth mindset with a really great set of flow charts).

So, other Gen Y law grads: Nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter. I’m sorry if you feel as though you were duped in some manner, but at this point you’re spending your time crying over spilled milk as opposed to doing something about it. The legal profession is in upheaval. Guess what? So is the whole world. Change is here whether you like it or not. And despite what you may have been led to believe, change has always been the name of the game. Computers and the internet have just punched change into the fast lane.

Either embrace it or get out of the race.


Keith Lee practices law at Hamer Law Group, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He writes about professional development, the law, the universe, and everything at Associate’s Mind. He is also the author of The Marble and The Sculptor: From Law School To Law Practice (affiliate link), published by the ABA. You can reach him at keith.lee@hamerlawgroup.com or on Twitter at @associatesmind.

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