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Released on Sep 18, 2023
Monday Morning Message 9.18.23 What I Wish I Had Known.

“Much of the uncertainty of law is not an unfortunate accident: it is of immense social value.” -Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor 

“The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.” – Jeremy Bentham

“The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” - Judge Learned Hand

Each August, I welcome our first year class of law students and share some thoughts during orientation week. This year I talked about “The 10 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Law School.” I will spare you all ten, but in the coming weeks, I’ll share just a few of the things I wish I had known.

When I started law school, I wish I had known to lean into uncertainty.

Throughout my education, from elementary school to college, I was taught the importance of knowing (and often memorizing) the right answer.

But over the years, I’ve come to understand that we live in a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. I’ve learned that the law is often about making sufficient conclusions from insufficient information.

So get comfortable with no clear answers. Rarely, if ever, are there just two choices. The best decision makers stay flexible and adaptable and create multiple options and paths before solving a complex problem.

Lean into uncertainty with the resilience and optimism you displayed during the pandemic. 

There are times in every lawyer’s life when despite their best efforts, they come up short. You may provide sound advice to a client only to have the client ignore it. You may write the perfect motion only to have the court deny it. The true measure of your success in law school will be how you learn from your mistakes and setbacks by adapting, changing, and improving.

Recognize that the law, like life, is complex and full of shades of gray and contradictions.

Many of our historical figures after whom institutions are named led contradictory lives that serve as a constant reminder of our nation’s contradictions. The lives of many of our nation’s founders hold multiple truths—that they did truly great things and they did reprehensible things that we should condemn and never excuse.

Our Constitution is one of the greatest documents ever written and has stood the test of time because of its core values of democratic governance and safeguards of liberty, but it was deeply flawed. The preamble's first three words, "We the people," did not include the majority of America's citizens - women and Blacks.(Note: yesterday was Constitution Day, commemorating the September 17, 1787 signing of the United States Constitution.)

As Professor Jeremy Paul notes in his book, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams, “being a law student and ultimately a lawyer has little to do with straightforward application of rules and everything to do with exercising judgment in ambiguous situations in which the intuition, ‘I’m not sure,’ is not a mark of failure but the beginning of wisdom.”

The law consists of many shades of gray, and as a lawyer it will be your job to distinguish among those shades. 

Have a great day and a great week. 

The views and opinions expressed in my Monday Morning Message are solely my own and do not reflect the views and opinions of the law school or the university.

For copies of past messages, please go to this link: Monday Morning Messages

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My best,

Lee

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