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What’s in Your Wallet? (2)

At Letters of Marque, Heidi carries on our conversation about law and science. She writes, a propos of the kind of analytic approach that lawyers and law students should take:

[Y]you should take what you do seriously. If you’re interested in cooking, it’s better to have one really sharp chef’s knife then forty dull blades of different shapes and sizes. Likewise, it’s better to have one really good intellectual tool than half-a-dozen indifferent ones.

If you’re a scientist, prepare for law school by taking science seriously. Don’t just try to get good grades; try to understand how things work. Ask why. Figure out how. Sharpen the knife that you have; after all, the best tool you can have is the ability to sharpen your own knives. Don’t go and buy the crappy Walmart set for $29.99.

Seriously, if you don’t know how to take things seriously, reading a piece of literature isn’t going to help you.

Heidi thinks that I’m quibbling with her; I think that I’m agreeing. (This sounds like a piece of dialogue from Jerry Maguire.) Our signals are crossing because we’re not necessarily talking about the same things, and in particular, we’re not talking about the same time frame.

Earlier in the summer, I wrote a series of posts about things that incoming law students can do to prepare themselves for law school in the few weeks remaining in the summer. If you’re a scientist, read some literature; if you’re a literary person, read some science. Open your mind a little bit, if it wasn’t open before, particularly in these directions. (By the way, the off-blog feedback I’ve gotten about that bit, from colleagues and practicing lawyers, has been uniformly positive.) In that time frame, will reading a little science make you a scientist (a serious scientist, or any other kind of scientist)? No, obviously. Likewise, a scientist who reads a couple of good novels won’t become a serious literary critic (or a serious anything else). Does that mean that either of these things is a bad idea? Harmful? No, and I’ll go one better: I still think that they’re good ideas. Don’t think of it as acquiring a set of cheap knives; think of it as opening yourself up to the idea that there are other ways of slicing. Law (and law school, and even law practice) should be serious, but it also can be fun. Really. And a big part of that fun is encountering and learning about new stuff. Even skilled, serious people coming into law school will confront new ways of doing stuff, and they’ll be more successful as law students and as lawyers if they recognize that new ways are potentially valuable and important.

Heidi’s real point, though (I think), is different. In whatever you do before you go to law school — college, grad school, work or profession of some sort, even running a household — don’t be a dilettante. She’s right (no quibbling here!). Being serious and skilled at any discipline gives a person coming into law school a huge advantage over people who are not. I was about to write “analytic discipline,” but I think that being a serious professional athlete, or a serious rock ‘n’ roll musician, or a serious anything else, should count, too.