In Africa a thing is true at first light, and a lie by noon*. (Earnest Hemingway, True at First Light)
An essential skill for any lawyer is the ability to evaluate a set of facts and, in combination with an understanding of law and process, come to a reasonable conclusion which can support advice to the client. Effective evaluation (critical thinking) is more science than art. It must be taught. Young lawyers therefore require the assistance of more senior lawyers to learn how to break a complex topic or matter into smaller parts for the purpose of achieving a better understanding of it. And, they need both time and opportunity to exercise this necessary skill.
The ability to analyze and evaluate is included in the young lawyers’ tool kit because of the crushing effect which the immediacy of modern means of communication has had on the ability of lawyers and other professionals of all ages and experience to think. This is especially daunting for younger lawyers:
Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments that are logical and well-thought out. It is a way of thinking in which you don’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions you are exposed to but rather have an attitude involving questioning such arguments and conclusions. It requires wanting to see what evidence is involved to support a particular argument or conclusion. People who use critical thinking are the ones who say things such as, ‘How do you know that? Is this conclusion based on evidence or gut feelings?’ and ‘Are there alternative possibilities when given new pieces of information?’
Critical thinking can be divided into the following three core skills: Curiosity is the desire to learn more information and seek evidence as well as being open to new ideas. Skepticism involves having a healthy questioning attitude about new information that you are exposed to and not blindly believing everything everyone tells you. Humility is the ability to admit that your opinions and ideas are wrong when faced with new convincing evidence that states otherwise.
I repeat, the gift of time and opportunity to embrace these core skills is essential.
We can assist our younger lawyers in this regard by creating an environment that gives them both time and opportunity.
Tips abound for managing time. The issue I am addressing is the discipline required by seniors to ensure that younger lawyers receive mentorship and training in the development of analytical skills together with the opportunity to practice them in a measured (dignified) environment. Creation of such an environment is enabled by the following gifts to our younger colleagues:
- The gift of a training program dedicated to these skills.
- The gift of a mentored relationship, which includes learning together to speak the same language in mutual development of shared goals, including enhancing analytical skills.
- The gift of timely instructions, in place of instructions given last minute or in circumstances saturated with panic.
- The gift of instructions which are clear and concise and which offer the opportunity for questions to ensure that our younger colleagues know what is being asked and what is expected out of the assignment.
- The gift of being included in the objective and meaning of the file and where the assignment assists, and not simply this apparently disembodied piece of the file, which is, at least by the associate, never seen to fit.
- The gift of a reasonable due date, by which I mean a due date that is not false but true, which arrives neither before nor after the work is due.
- The gift of approachability and collegial advice or comment should issues arise.
- The gift of constructive feedback when the work is done.
The absence of one or more of these gifts will inhibit the ability of younger colleagues to learn how to analyze issues and deliver reasoned and reasonable work.
*In the sentence quoted above, Hemingway was referring to the Serengeti, which in the early morning mist suggested a lake, but which under the heat of the sun revealed a desert. True at first light.
We can help our younger colleagues deliver heat.