Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney


One of the latest books I’ve read is Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. It’s the collaborative effort of Roy Baumeister, a renowned psychology, and John Tierney, a New York Times journalist. As you may have guessed, the primary focus of this book is in explaining the psychological concept of Willpower, and suggesting how your Willpower can be improved. There were many, many takeaways from this book and I cannot possibly share them all. So, I will highlight a few of my favorite concepts and ideas.

For one, you must understand that Willpower is a finite source of energy, prone to depletion. That’s right, we all don’t have infinite tanks of willpower deployable at any moment if we just focus hard enough. It’s more like the gas in our fuel tanks that gets used up when we make decisions, focus on hard tasks, or fail to self-regulate other parts of our life. And we use the same reserve of willpower for all manner of tasks; a different reserve isn’t used up when we engage in strenuous activities as opposed to simple tasks.

The stores in our tanks used to fuel willpower is glucose. Low levels of glucose, Baumeister found, correlated with low levels of willpower. The takeaway: if you find yourself unable to focus, eat something that can provide a sustainable source of glucose. Yes, I know simple carbohydrates like candy with lots of sugar is most likely to give you that glucose spike you desire, but stay away from those short-term glucose boosts and choose a slow digesting carbohydrate like grains or nuts. If you do need that quick hit, like I did when I was in several of my exams over the last couple of weeks, chose a fruit like a banana.

Another important attribute you must consider when improving your willpower is self-regulation, which is really another way of saying self-control. Throughout the book, the authors suggest various ways you can increase your self-control: the necessary element for enhanced willpower. The first step in self-control is setting a clear goal. So, whenever you sit down to complete a task, reflect on the goal completing the task would accomplish. This goal shouldn’t be some nebulous idea, like, get done with this chapter so I can read the next one, or, write this memo so I can be done with work for the day. Instead, think about this goal’s effect on your future.[1]

Baumeister also cautions against the danger of leaving goals unfinished. Unfinished goals can give rise to a cool concept called the Zeigarnik Effect: The tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about an objective that was once pursued but left incomplete. Ever wonder why a song gets stuck in your head? This idea suggests its because you didn’t finish the entire song and your unconscious mind is nagging your conscious mind to complete the task. Setting and completing goals will help you overcome the Zeigarnik Effect and aid you on your path to self-regulation and stronger willpower.

There is really so much in this book, and for the most part, the results of Baumeister’s studies really “click” with the reader and won’t shock you. I was often unsurprised by the results of the various studies Baumeister conducted. Nonetheless, the results still had a profound effect because if you’re anything like me, I have trouble accepting any scientific proposition—much less implementing it in my day-to-day life—without empirical research. Suffice it to say, I have incorporated many of Baumeister’s Willpower-improving suggestions when writing, studying, and doing anything else that requires self-control.

Understandably, then, the most useful aspect of this book was the recommended techniques for improving your willpower. Thus, I’ll conclude by briefly explaining three of these strategies.

  1. The Precommitment Strategy: Making it impossible to stray from your path by leveraging a negative emotion, such as humiliation, that would result from abandoning your goal. For instance, you could install a software like Covenant Eyes that will track your web browsing and then e-mail the visited sites to designated parties—i.e., boss or spouse. Precommitting to Covenant Eyes will institute a sense of accountability and nudge you away from visiting those tantalizing websites. This practice will eventually increase your self-control in the process.
  2. The Orderly Habits Strategy: Engaging in simple activities like flossing, shaving, making your bed, and turning these into habits. Once you have used your willpower to make the simple habit customary, it becomes a relatively automatic mental process expending little or no further willpower. In other words, this practice leaves you with the willpower necessary to engage in more demanding tasks. To summarize, turn your little activities into automatic mental processes so that you don’t deplete your willpower reserves early on in your day or on menial tasks.
  3. Focusing on lofty-thought strategy: Willpower has been found to increase with people who think in high-level terms—i.e., asking “why you are doing something” instead of “how you are doing something” and thinking more universally about a concept instead of more specifically. These manipulations of mental state have been scientifically proven to encourage people to pass up a quick reward for something better in the future—self-control. The reason: the right questions force you to think about the future and abstractions, which is a higher level of thinking, and this higher level of thinking enhances willpower.

So, try implementing these strategies and see if they help improve your self-control. And check out a copy of Baumeister and Tierney’s book here:

Also, I’ve attached a pdf outline I made for this book, which you can find here: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength Outline



[1] Baumeister found that people with high incomes tend to look into the future more than people with low incomes.


Elements of Productivity: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg


Defined as “the average measure of the efficiency of production, productivity is clearly something we all want to increase. Hopefully this review sheds some light on how to do so on a day-to-day basis.

Productivity: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

The book I’m reviewing this week is Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being More Productive in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times and author of the New York Time’s Best Seller, The Power of Habit, which spent over 60 weeks on the heralded list. In his new book, Duhigg sets forth a variety of elements that can increase productivity in your life and profession. Evoking an anecdotal-model, Duhigg looks at numerous accounts throughout history—ranging from a narrative about the Yom Kippur War in Israel to the factual background behind the Disney hit “Frozen”—to illustrate eight separate principles that can help boost productivity tremendously. Since finishing the book, I have incorporated several of these principles in my work and habits, and can personally attest to the validity of the concepts explicated in this book.

Here are the eight areas which provide the context for Duhigg’s principles: (1) Motivation; (2) Teams; (3) Focus; (4) Goal Setting; (5) Managing Other; (6) Decision Making; (7) Innovation; and (8) Absorbing Data.

I think it’s worth mentioning that the readability of this book is extremely high. The anecdotes providing the background for the principles are engaging, easy-to-follow, and relevant, so that the pages keep turning. But the book also contains a scientific-empirical aspect with stimulating concepts. For instance, the inclusion of Bayes’ Theorem[1] and the applicability of that statistical law to every-day decision-making is exemplary of advanced concepts Duhigg evokes to illustrate his principles of productivity.

But such theoretical concepts don’t obscure the absorbable nature of the underlying principles Duhigg advocates. For an example illustrating the nature of Duhigg’s pedagogy, let’s look at the first chapter on Motivation. First, Duhigg cogently states the key principle: The first step in creating motivation is to give individual the opportunity to make choices that provide them with a sense of autonomy and self-determination. Then, he suggests how one might implement this principle into their work more easily, which would be to learn to see our choices not merely as expressions of our control but also affirmations of our values and goals. This latter portion has the effect endowing our actions with larger meaning and providing fuel for our desire to take action; hence, employing this mind-set helps spur motivation. I can’t do the principle complete justice, as the book is undoubtedly more persuasive—by using research and other examples—in explaining why you should think about increasing motivation this way, but hopefully you get the picture.

The other chapters explain the essential principles in a similar fashion and Duhigg is exceedingly persuasive throughout. The combination of entertaining stories—i.e., how the comedians of Saturday Night Live and its creator Lorne Michaels are an archetype of a successful Business Team— and thoroughness of research involved in writing this book is indeed laudable. Duhigg explored many relevant scientific studies and condenses the findings into a readable form. I think this is a reflection of the duel-threat skills Duhigg embodies as a successful novel writer (The Power of Habit) and world-class reporter.

At bottom, Smarter, Faster, Better delivers in doing exactly what the title suggests, all while providing entertaining stories to illustrate the vital principles. The strength of this book is not only in the concise statements of principles that will make you more Productive, but also the easy-follow methodology of how incorporate those principles in your professional or personal life. Whether you need help focusing, making better decisions, or stimulating creativity, Duhigg’s book will provide the immediate value you need.

I also am providing an outline I created setting forth the most salient points within each chapter. While I’ve identified the key concepts in the outline and that in it of itself may be sufficient to understand important aspects of the book, the real strength lies in the anecdotal method Duhigg employs—i.e., the utilization of various real-life stories to set the stage for the fundamental principles of the book. My brief overview is a good starting point, but should not be an end in itself.

For the outline: Smarter, Faster, Better Outline

For more information on the book: Smarter, Faster, Better

[1] Bayes’ theorem describes the probability of an event, depending on the happening of conditions related to the event. The core principle is this: Even if we don’t have much data on making a decision, we still have the ability to estimate the future by making assumptions and then skewing them depending on our observations of the world.

Mastery by Robert Greene Review, Part 2


“Do not think what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach.”   Marcus Aurelius  

Mastery Robert Greene

In my first post discussing the book Mastery by Robert Greene, I analyzed the Discover your Calling Stage. As you may recall, there are three other stages to Mastery. They are the Apprenticeship Stage, the Creative-Active stage, and the Achievement of Mastery. In this post, I’ll examine the Apprenticeship Stage.

Using Charles Darwin as the archetype, Greene develops the necessary requirements one must accomplish to have a successful Apprenticeship. But before doing so, there are a few big ideas Greene mentions you should remain cognizant of throughout your Apprenticeship. Chiefly, that the end goal is the transformation of mind and character—the framework of which is detailed below. Also of significance is finding work that is accommodating to an Apprenticeship; that is, one that offers the greatest possibilities for learning. Moreover, a successful Apprenticeship stage should be one that moves you towards challenges, one that permits you to receive valuable, fair, objective feedback, and one that is outside of your comfort zone. And the final big idea is the necessity of having an objective approach to your Apprenticeship, which helps develop the ability to clearly identify the type of knowledge and skill typical of successful individuals in your law practice.

With those big ideas out of the way, Greene specifies the three requisite steps for a successful Apprenticeship: (1) Deep Observation (The Passive Mode); (2) Skills Acquisition (The Practice Mode) and Experimentation (Active Mode).

Deep Observation

In this stage, which should coincide with the initial period of work, you are cautioned to not try and impress your new employer; don’t try seek attention or to prove yourself. Greene Explains that this can work against you by stifling your ability to absorb as much as possible and by putting a target on your back. Instead, observe the attorneys in your firm.

Observation is your most valuable asset in this stage. But don’t merely observe that which makes an attorney successful on an individual level (i.e., he is great in front of a jury, or a fantastic brief writer), but also the attorney’s interpersonal relationships. For example, look at the group dynamics in the office: who has control in this firm or office, who is in charge, who can you model yourself after and work with, who is on the rise and ascending up the professional hierarchy, and, similarly, who is on the decline.

Anybody who worked as a summer associate likely made observations concerning these questions, even if not intentionally. You might recall a partner you identified as calling the shots but still sat second-chair when a bigger fish was present. Or maybe you can remember a monumental figure in the firm, responsible for so much of its success, that you could envision stepping down soon—and did you analyze the implications of this? Greene urges us to ask and ruminate on these types of questions in this passive stage, as they will be instrumental to a successful Apprenticeship.

Skills Acquisition

This is the most critical stage. Here, you must be able to reduce the attorney-skills you have observed to their basic elements. In distilling these skills, make must also make sure they are abilities that can be practiced. Greene explains that the best way to understand these skills is through engaging with your model and watching them.[1] Because humans evolved through watching others, thus developing mirror neurons, we are especially well-suited to this type of learning. Obviously, you are going to utilize the power of mirror neurons more effectively from watching an attorney orally negotiate a complex mandatory settlement conference than watching them write a brief in their office, but the idea remains the same. But to the latter point, to stimulate your mirror neurons to develop your writing skills, I suppose one could go over the brief paragraph by paragraph asking why the attorney wrote, reasoned, and analyzed in such a way.

One you have distilled these skills in a way that makes them cogent—clarity is key in this stage, you move towards practicing those skills. Upon practicing, you will eventually enter a cycle of accelerated returns, Greene says. In this cycle, practice becomes easier and more engaging, and you can practice for longer spans of time. The cycle also augments your ability to spot nuances and previously unidentifiable flaws, issues, and problems in your skills. While practicing, though, Greene warns us not to focus on too many skills at once. Just start with one you can master. I would think brief writing would be a suitable skill to focus on in the early stages of a litigation career, but your first skill might depend on the firm and legal area. In any event, as you continue to develop this skill, the cycle of accelerated returns dictates that you will begin to enjoy practicing more and more, leading to a more interesting work experience.


Here, there is one primarily goal: to take on more responsibility. Most individuals wait too long to take the experimentation step, generally out of fear. But you must push through this initial hesitation and think about ways to take on a significant challenge. You might envision doing this by initiating a project at your firm. This could be a new initiative within your practice group, where, for example, you propose an effort to compile a database of information or analytics that can develop your group’s legal strategy in dealing with certain type of cases. The end result, and goal of this stage, is that you put yourself at the mercy of the criticism and judgment of others. How you handle this judgment is vital to completing your Apprenticeship stage, as your response will reveal whether or not you are done.

Well, those are the three stages. Examine these principles and suggestions and see how you can apply them to your work. But before I leave you, Greene mentions eight strategies for completing the ideal apprenticeship:

  • Value learning over money;
  • Keep expanding your horizons by looking for new challenges that can redefine the limits of your world and build up your skills;
  • Revert to a feeling of inferiority and disregard preconceptions that hinder your ability to absorb as much information as possible;
  • Trust the process and don’t look at frustration as a negative, but a sign of progress;
  • Move toward resistance and pain by frequently practicing those areas you are weak;
  • Apprentice your self in failure and don’t be afraid of it; but make sure to learn from it. “The hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn”;
  • Combine the “how” and the “what” by asking how things work in your profession—i..e, how do decisions get made, how does the group interact, don’t just identify the group-dynamic, but ask why it is this way; and
  • Advance through trial and error.

I hope you enjoyed this review on a section of a really terrific book. I truly believe it contains valuable insight for any lawyer or knowledge worker and recommend it to anyone looking to better themselves in their field. Find it here on Amazon:

Mastery by Robert Greene

Disclaimer: I am an amazon affiliate and will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you if you decide to purchase the book from the link above.

Point Made, by Ross Guberman (Book Review)

point made Ross Guberman
Point Made by Ross Guberman

Before I get into my review of Point Made, I have quick comment:

Writing is undoubtedly one of a lawyer’s most valuable assets and a skill worthy of constant and never ending improvement. But in law school, at least after our first year legal writing course, there is seldom a class that consistently asks the student to write briefs, memos, or otherwise work on their legal writing ability week-to-week. While this post is not intended to be a critique on the law school norm imposing a one-year course, some students, like myself, need additional help in legal writing. Because even after my first year of law school, I was still a terrible writer, and I don’t believe law schools do enough to help students in my situation. Nevertheless, the burden is on the students to turn to self-study to develop their skills.

Don’t worry, and hopefully you can tell, my writing ability eventually changed for the better. It started with my Antitrust class, where I elected the option to write four short papers in lieu of a final essay exam. This opportunity gave me the time and motivation necessary to hone legal writing skills. Over these months writing the essays during my Fall semester of 2L, I saw my writing ability increase tremendously and I later received an A in this class.

With this increased confidence, I ventured to write a law-review comment—which was eventually published—over winter break of 2L. But the question remains, how did I improve? Was is merely repetition and persistence? Did something just click with Antitrust and the law review comment topic that made my writing worthy of praise? How did I move from receiving a below-average grade in my legal writing classes to relative writing success? The answer is legal writing books. The one that started it all was Strunk and White, but enough commentary is out there on that book and it is well-established as a legal writing authority. So, I will review a different, more recent book instead: Point Made by Ross Guberman

But first let me comment that while I am a huge proponent of reading books generally, I know many students don’t believe they have time to read materials outside of assigned texts. Not reading a single book on legal writing after your first year course, however, is a huge mistake. Writing is something we can constantly improve on, whether it be reading books geared towards persuasive brief writing or those on style and grammar. I find it incredibly useful to turn to legal writing books to transform you into the best writer possible. Without further delay, I’ll get into Ross Guberman’s book, which gives tips on brief writing, style, and grammar—albeit unorthodoxly.

The bulk of the book is in the form of excerpts not written by Guberman, but by some of the most famous legal writers of our times—Thurgood Marshall, Justice Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts, Laurence Tribe, and even a few excerpts from the President (Obama). Guberman begins throughout by introducing witty section titles like: “One Fell Swoop: Distinguish a line of cases all at once.” Following, he gives a brief—very brief—intro into the concept of interest, and then, jumps right into excerpts, pointing out how the advocate uses the principle alluded to in the section. Using bolded words in the excerpts, the pertinent usage is evident and easy to follow throughout all sections.

This format is highly effective in this comprehensive legal writing book and I personally have gained tons of value. This new way of illustration, by way of heavy reliance on excerpts, gives the reader insight into what advocates really do when writing a brief. It really enjoyed how Guberman serves up these insights and makes them easily accessible.

I found the excerpt method especially valuable because in law school, we read opinion after opinion after opinion. Thus, it was refreshing to read briefs by advocates—not judges, or their law clerks—and see the persuasive value these lawyers engender in their writing ability. And where else can you find a highly persuasive section of a Kathleen Sullivan brief followed by a Morgan Chu motion all in one place? Guberman’s compilation is truly unique in format and does not disappoint in breadth or comprehensiveness of content. He provides you various tips to use in your intro, all the way to your conclusion—Guberman recommends ending with more than a simple prayer for relief or two sentence request for judgment.

Guberman is also a complete grammar-nerd, which I appreciate. He adds highly technical grammatical and stylistic principles in little notes following various excerpts, where he either criticize or praises the excerpt for its grammatical or stylistic content—and provides a correction if necessary. Here’s an example of his work: “Try to reserve ‘While’ for time, as in ‘While the case was on appeal, the parties settled.’ For subordination, [ which was used in the preceding excerpt] . . . prefer ‘Although’ or ‘Even though.’”

In the end, Point Made is a valuable tool for any law-student, lawyer, or individual wanting to understand how the best lawyers in our legal system write—and win cases. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to take their brief writing to the next level. Guberman’s distillment of such a vast array of writing principles, communicated through the briefs of legal giants, is guaranteed to help do so. He also provides problems—serving more as a recap than challenge—in the end of the book to solidify the principles discussed.

Lastly, I have attached my personal outline I created when reading this book. It provides a concise summation of all the principles used in Point Made, explicating them briefly, and providing a few examples from the briefs as well. Find it here:

Point Made Outline

Lastly, find the book on amazon here:

Disclaimer: I am an amazon affiliate, and if you purchase this book from the link here, I will receive a commission with no extra charge to you.

Continue reading “Point Made, by Ross Guberman (Book Review)”

Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

Managing Oneself book review

Peter Drucker was a professor, management consultant, author of 39 books, and many more scholarly articles. He is widely regarded as “the man who invited management,”[1] and is the originator of the term “knowledge worker,” which us law students will soon become.

In his short book (55 pages), Managing Oneself, Drucker sets forth and explicates universal principles necessary for a successful career as a knowledge worker. This book, even in its brevity, contains groundbreaking principles that I immediately applied upon reading the book.

Determine Your Strengths

First, Drucker urges the reader to make a concerted effort to determine their strengths. Far too many people know what they’re not good at, instead of knowing their strong points. You uncover your strengths through what Drucker calls feedback analysis: making a key decision or taking a key action, predicting what you expect to happen, and then comparing the actual results with your expectations. Within two to three years, this method of comparing your expectations with your results will reveal where your strengths lie. Then, you must (1) concentrate on these strengths and put yourself in a position where you can produce using your strengths, (2) work on improving your strengths, and (3) ascertain where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it. This last element is another way of saying that you must understand the link between your bad habits and their effect on your productivity and effectiveness, and then eliminate those bad habits. Lastly, don’t focus on improving your weaknesses so that you become mediocre at those skills; just focus on your strengths.

Understand how you Perform

To understand how you perform, Drucker says you must determine whether you are a reader or listener. To do so, simply ask yourself: are you most prepared to perform when you read, or can you reach a level of preparedness by talking about the subject matter instead. Once classifying yourself as a reader or listener, you must understand how you learn. Ask yourself if you learn by writing, or, instead, if you learn by listening and reading.

Drucker also criticizes traditional schooling which assumes there is only one right way to learn for everyone. This leads to far too many people being mediocre at many skills but proficient at few.

The next question in determining how you perform, ask whether you work best alone or in groups. Lastly, are you most productive as a decision maker or as an adviser? Answering these questions will help you on your way to becoming a successful knowledge worker.

Determine your Values

Drucker proposes you determine your values by performing what he calls the mirror test. Ask yourself what you want to see in the mirror in the morning. If the work you’re doing, the people you’re working with, and so forth, would give life to an unflattering reflection, you are breaching your values. Drucker also encourages you have to similar values with those who you work with. They don’t have to be the same, but close enough to coexist. Also make sure your strengths are concordant with your values[2], as sometimes what we are good at are not aligned with our values.

Figure out where you Belong

Knowing where you belong requires synthesizing your strengths, your ability to perform, and your values. This requires reflecting on your past experiences producing, and determining both what was effective and ineffective. This analysis will shed light onto how you will perform in the future on certain tasks and projects, even allowing you to approach questions differently or decline projects altogether if you know you’re not effective when performing that type of work. Because you have carefully considered where you belong, your analysis will be appreciated. Others will permit you to engage in the type of work you know to be the most efficient, especially once positive results are realized.

What to Contribute

You must engage in three considerations to answer this question: (1) Ask yourself what the situation requires; (2) Given your strengths, your way of performing, and your values, ask yourself how you can make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done; and (3) Determine what results have to be achieved to make a difference? To know which results make a difference, focus on “stretching” your abilities to achieve your goals; you should lean upon your edge, your comfort level. But make sure your projects are still within reach—don’t be foolishly optimistic. Also make sure the results can be measured.

Responsibility for Relationships

Drucker highlights the importance of relationships in Managing Oneself. There are two parts here. First, accept the fact that both you and other people are equally individuated. Know that everyone has there own values, strengths, and methods of performing, and try to understand those elements as you understand your own. Secondly, you must take responsibility for communication. That is, you must take on the burden of educating others about the aspects of your work specific to your unique role; likewise, don’t be afraid to ask about their strengths, values, and contributions. Taking these steps will help you achieve synergy with your co-workers; thus maximizing efficiency and value production.


These are the most salient points in Drucker’s mini-masterpiece, Managing Onself. And I strongly encourage you to pick up the book for yourself to further distill the principles discussed in this post. If you heed Drucker’s advice, I am it will help you achieve the level of productivity and efficacy sufficient to build a lasting career as a knowledge worker. Check it out on Amazon here:

managing oneself
[1] http://www.druckerinstitute.com/peter-druckers-life-and-legacy/

[2] The idea of self-concordant goals was first introduced to me by Tal Ben-Shahar in his book Happiness. For a further discussion, see http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/56642/_PARENT/layout_details_cc/false

Mastery Applied: A Path to Legal Mastery

    mastery robert greene
“Your Life’s Task is a living, breathing organism. The moment you rigidly follow a plan set in youth, you lock yourself into a position, and the times will ruthlessly pass you by.”
         In this blog post, I’ll highlight some principles of Robert Greene’s book, Mastery, and discuss their applicability to legal professionals. Greene’s book is most definitely not a legal book.  It is categorized as a Motivational, Self-Help book on Amazon and has met critical acclaim, becoming a New York Times bestseller.
The book follows a similar structure throughout, which consists of discussing the stories of various historical figures—Leonardo da Vinci to Darwin—and how their stories are emblematic of the path to Mastery Greene advocates. Greene then elucidates the principles discovered within the stories of these “Masters” more concretely.
 Basically, Mastery consists of four stages. You must: (1) Discover Your Calling; (2) Complete the Apprenticeship Phase; (3) Complete the Creative-Active Stage; and (4) Achieve Mastery—which is also a process, Mastery is not merely something you reach, but instead, something you continue to develop. This post will focus on the first stage—Discovering Your Calling. I will note that one thing is very apparent after reading this book: Most people never achieve Mastery.
         A reader who is a law student or legal practitioner may point out the following: well I already know my calling, I’m in law school to become a lawyer, or I’m already a lawyer. While this is true, Greene highlights the importance of understanding why Law is our path to mastery. To do so, we might want to clamp down on something more specific to explain our choice to become a lawyer. We might ask ourselves: Why did we want to become a lawyer? Is it to be the best litigator possible; winning cases at an extraordinarily high winning percentage? Or is it to provide the most effective counsel—directing the client towards a result that they find satisfying? Is it to merge companies or restructure businesses to increase the social utility for each?
To aid in answering these questions, Greene says we might look at an underlying pattern in our lives to confirm that Law is our life’s calling. We might identify a core to our character, and see if our path to becoming a lawyer is aligned with such values inherent in our core. We might ask if we want to become a lawyer because we felt inexplicably drawn towards it since a child? Did we have a chance encounter with helping someone in an advocate type-role that left no doubt in our mind that a lawyer was the right profession? Were you a client at one point, and personally felt the power of being advocate and wanted to achieve that for yourself? Greene would posit that these are all appropriate signposts to determine if we are on the right path.
Once we decide what values led us to this path, we must see if the job we either have, or will have, is congruent with those values. For example, is taking that Big-Law job and doing the work typically assigned in those firms concordant with why we wanted to become an attorney? If it is to do high-stakes litigation for Fortune Five Hundred Companies (saving them millions of dollars in the process), then the answer might be yes!
Alternatively, is taking that job a means to an end? Perhaps a tool to achieve a sum of money that we find worthwhile; or maybe we took it to pay off our student loans? Greene counsels against choosing a job for these reasons, and calls it the “False Path.” He explains the eventual disappointment that follows from choosing a job incongruent with our values: “A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons—money, fame, attention, and so on. . . . Because the field we choose does not correspond with our deepest inclinations, we rarely find the fulfillment that we crave.”
Once your values are aligned with your job, thus confirming that the career path that you are already on or about to begin is the right one, we must begin the next stage in Discovering Our Calling. This simply entails enlarging your concept of work itself. Most people separate work from life outside of work—which is the place where we find real pleasure and fulfillment. Greene says doing so is not advisable and an experience I had pre-law school was emblematic of the negative effects of this separation.
Back when I was a file clerk at a mid-size litigation firm, I remember hearing a disgruntled lawyer proclaim, after asking him if he liked being a lawyer, that “It’s just a job.” There was no passion in his sentiment and I could see this when he strolled through the office. This was a man who clearly didn’t like being a lawyer, and he even admitted this on a different occasion. I now wonder if it was attitude that caused his disdain for the legal field or the other way around; either way, Greene argues for a different perspective when treading on your Path to Mastery. “[Y]ou want to see your work as something more inspiring, as part of your vocation.” Greene doesn’t mean vocation in the traditional sense of the word; instead, it refers to the older Latin meaning: to call or to be called. It is the ability to turn your work into something deeply connected to who you are; not something separate and compartmentalized.
Well that’s all I’ll get into for this post. But the two takeaways are this: (1) Make sure your pursuing your job for the right reasons—don’t do it for money or attention because these reasons never prove to be deeply satisfying; and (2) Develop the connectedness between your job and your life, think about how your other pursuits feed into being an attorney and vice-versa. This type of bi-directional relationship between work and your time outside of work will help you achieve the deepness and fulfillment we all desire.
 My next post will apply principles in the next stage of Mastery: The Apprenticeship Phase.
If you’d like to check out the book for yourself, please click here:

Legal Technology: Case Text–The Rap Genius of the Legal World?

         Upon completing my recent Law Review article, I was tasked with writing up an abstract. Upon some research on writing the short foreword, I was determined to craft an abstract that was compelling, interesting, but before anything else, easy-to-follow. To see if my abstract achieved such clarity, I emailed the short 200-something word document to a few friends who are not in the legal field. I received a few unsatisfactory different responses from each:  It’s well-written, but I have no idea if it is substantively correct; or, it seems interesting but I’m a bit confused on what these two legal terms mean; and lastly, reading this confirms that I do not want to pursue a J.D. I then proceeded to define, explain, and argue with them to try and allay (add to?) their confusion.
This experience was emblematic of the problem many non-lawyers face when they look at legal documents—they have no idea what the author is trying to say. And while I don’t expect non-lawyers to read law review articles or an opinion from the Northern District of California on wage and hour issues, non-lawyers, and lawyers alike, should have a database where they can find commentary on legal documents that is written for explanatory purposes. This is where Case Text steps in.
Case Text has been referred to as the Rap-Genius of the legal industry, and is a database dedicated to crowd-sourced annotation of legal documents. While an annotated version of my Abstract on Case Text would have been able to clear up much of my friend’s confusion, it is really designed for lawyers—and could potentially rival Westlaw and Lexis.  The annotations on Case Text can either be explanatory or general in nature, and can give you insight into the minds of scholars and attorneys who are experts in the field. Case Text has millions of cases and statutes and tens of thousands of lawyers have already registered.
The implications for Case Text are exciting and we may soon be able to read opinions with annotations written by the very lawyers who argued the case. This is valuable when we consider that the answers to our legal problems may not merely be in the words of an opinion; instead, the answer might be in the expertise of a lawyer in the relevant field who has tangled with the same legal issue—and whose comment is immediately viewable in the annotation! There is no need to search additional secondary sources on the opinion or pore through hundreds of citation references. Just look for the highlighted passages in an opinion and you’ll find the corresponding commentary
Researching cases on the Case Text database and the ability to annotate is free for anyone who registers. The site also functions as a blog database. You can have access to the blog posts of lawyers who have their own blogs, but import their content directly to Case Text. Case Text categorizes communities for all the major areas of law—Employment, Intellectual Property, etc…—and interaction between other lawyers within your field, or prospective field of practice, is facilitated tremendously.
One concern with Case Text is in the freedom in which anyone can annotate a comment. This is the same concern that many have with Wikipedia; but, this should not be too much of an issue if there is some degree of moderator screening on the comments. Additionally, because of the specialized nature of law, it will be harder for random people to B.S. an explanation.
In sum, Case Text gives a lawyer, law student, or non-lawyer an opportunity to receive commentary on legal documents that is vastly different than commentary available on more traditional platforms—Lexis Nexis and Westlaw. It also provides a blogging center for individuals to reach out to others in the community. 
Case Text can be a great asset, but upon a cursory search of a few seminal cases, I did not find much commentary or annotations yet. The blogging atmosphere, on the other hand, seems vibrant and the ability to connect to other legal bloggers in one place is key. Im excited to see what the future holds in store for Case Text.

Health and Wellness: Why you Should Exercise Regularly in Law School

Health and Wellness: Why you Should Exercise Regularly in Law School
“Keeping physically fit is essential for keeping mentally fit”

This short post will be the first of a series titled Health and Wellness. In this series, I will detail the effects of exercise—in this post and others—nutrition, relaxation techniques like meditation, and anything else that can help you become a more effective law student.
I know, it’s pretty obvious, exercise is good for you. We all know this. But for many in law school, exercise is a luxury for which we don’t have time. Unless you have an established habit of exercising prior to law school, it’s tough to gain the motivation and harness the willpower to exercise regularly. Many people let their exercise routines fall to the wayside and suffer the consequences. But what are the consequences? To most, it is just gaining some weight and losing out on the most commonly thrown around term associated with exercising—endorphins. Many people reason: Ok, fine, I can gain a little extra weight in law school; I can sacrifice being in great shape for a few years while I obtain my degree. While this is true, there is so much more to gain from exercise than merely looking aesthetically pleasing. This article will highlight some of those benefits.
The most compelling justification (sorry for the Con law terminology) for engaging in frequent exercise is that it releases more insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).[1] This natural growth hormone goes into your brain and stimulates brain-derived neurotropic factor, “which is like super fertilizer for your brain.” These two chemicals essentially allow your brain to make new brain cells—neurogenesis—and improve connections between existing brain cells—neuroplasticity.  The result: improved cognitive performance, enhanced memory, slowed or stopped mental decline associated with aging, and the prevention of dementia. In other words, exercise effectively rewires your brain, allowing it run faster, smoother, and more efficiently. 
Another benefit of exercise is seen when focusing in on the neurotransmitters—brain chemicals that send information throughout your body—in your brain. Exercise affects these neurotransmitters by increasing your levels of dopamine (which enhances your ability to focus) and serotonin (which helps calm you down). This has led Dr. Mark Hyman, in his book the Ultramind Solution, to proclaim that “[e]xercise can give you the same neurotransmitter and mental benefits as Ritalin and Zyprexa without the risk of side effects.” He relies on studies that found exercise beats or equals Prozac or psychotherapy in working as an effective antidepressant. Other researches have similarly found that exercise is one of the best ways for lifting mild depression because it changes the physiological state a negative or depressive mood might evoke; you move from a low-arousal depressive state, into a high arousal state.[2]And as you may know, depression runs rampant in law school, with many students feeling depressed at one time or another.[3]
Additionally, exercise can positively affect your hormones by correcting and preventing insulin resistance.[4]Imbalances in blood sugar and insulin can be a source of brain again, but exercise helps halt this aging process. Exercise can also boost testosterone, which improves mood, memory, motivation, and overall cognitive function.
In sum, regular exercise can improve your memory, mood, and overall brain function through a variety of ways. Whether it be increasing the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, or stimulating the production of hormones like IGF-1 and testosterone, you can be sure to enhance the level of your cognitive development and performance by sticking to a regular exercise routine.
     No, this does not mean you need to start a 6-day anerobic exercise split, working out a different body part everyday at your local Gold’s gym. In fact, Dr. Hyman, as part of his six-week program in living a healthier life, recommends you simply walk vigorously for thirty minutes every day. That’s it! No treadmill, no sweaty gyms, no daunting exercise machines and dumbbells. Just a good pair of walking shoes and hopefully some nice weather.   
If you want more information about the assertions relied upon in this article, you can find Dr. Hyman’s book here:
Disclaimer: I am an amazon affiliate and will receive a commission if you decide to purchase this book.

Lastly, if you enjoyed this article, please comment below and tell me what you liked about it. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to my email list if you want updates for each new post.  

[1] Hyman, M. (2010). The UltraMind Solution: Fix your broken brain by healing your body first: the simple way to defeat depression, overcome anxiety, and sharpen your mind, 58 (1st Scribner trade prk.ed). New York: Scribner. Note, the following propositions in this paragraph also rely on this book and page.
[2] Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.
[3] http://abovethelaw.com/2015/01/if-youre-in-law-school-youre-probably-depressed/
[4] Hyman, M. (2010). The UltraMind Solution: Fix your broken brain by healing your body first: the simple way to defeat depression, overcome anxiety, and sharpen your mind, 313 (1st Scribner trade prk.ed). New York: Scribner. The following propositions also rely on this same page.

E-Book or Print: What are the Advantages of the E-Book?


            With a growing number of law publishers converting their traditional print sources into E-books, a question arises: Could buying the electronic version of your traditional text book be a better call? In the future, will we see students pulling out their tablets in the library to turn the pages of Farnsworth on Contracts, or Kathleen Sullivan’s Constitutional Law casebook? Will the days of frantically highlighting every sentence of the casebook by hand, including the dicta you don’t yet realize is worthless, come to a close? Will those scribbled notes on the margins of my Criminal Law textbook cease to exist? Will the days of renting and selling-back books be over?

The answer to this question is: not yet. A 2014 study found that 87% of students spent their money on print books as opposed to only 9% on E-books.[1]But this could merely be because professors don’t assign books with E-versions (not likely to be the case in the future) or mandate the students buy the print source. Nonetheless, it isn’t too soon to analyze the merits of each source. This post will focus on the benefits of the E-book.
         As many of my friends know, I am a huge fan of E-books. Still, I only bought one law-book on my kindle, and that was an Understanding Criminal Law supplement. I really enjoyed reading this supplement on my kindle and can’t really explain why I never bought another one besides the fact that print-sources just seem to be customary. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to get cold-called in class and have my kindle die on me or freeze up when trying to find the holding of a case. But the truth is I never compared the benefits of each source in a reasoned manner; however, upon further reflection, I’ve realized the E-book has some incredible advantages.
         For one, they are light-weight! If we consolidated all are 1000 page textbooks into a single tablet, my chronic back pain may have never come about. The federal consumer Product Safety Commission recently found that carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day for the entire year results in a cumulative load on our bodies of 21,600 pounds—roughly the equivalent of six sedans![2] Also, you don’t have to hunch over your textbook highlighting for hours at a time with your neck crooked.        
The next advantage ties into the last one, and it’s that you have all your resources in one portable, compact device. You can read in places where pulling out a massive textbook and highlighting would neither be convenient nor possible—a car, plane, or bus. Man, if I could have hit up my Civ Pro text on the trip back to school after thanksgiving break, I for sure what have got a better grade.
         The next advantage is my absolute favorite and one of the main reasons I read non-law books on a kindle—you can look up any word at the tap of your finger with the built-in dictionary.[3]This advantage is particularly relevant to 1L’s who are bombarded by legalese and antiquated terms from day one. I still remember reading some of those oddly worded contract terms in my UCC supplement (anticipatory repudiation?) the day before my first contracts class—I had never heard of half these words. And don’t let me get started on  Marbury vs. Madison, how could you even know what that case was about with all those archaic terms?
Further, you can look up a legal concept on Wikipedia or in Google by highlighting the term and clicking search. This tool allows easy access to legal sources on Google like legal-dictionary.com, and this would have been incredibly useful during 1L and currently. I think it is much more likely that a student will highlight and click a term than search the term separately on their computer.
Next, books by Lexis or Westlaw give you direct hyperlinks to those legal databases from an E-reader. This is useful for the extra ambitious student who wants to do further research on cited cases, statutes, or law review journals. 
In treatises, like the Understanding Series, the footnotes are not cluttered at the bottom, but instead at the end of next section, which I think greatly enhances readability.  To the same point, you can adjust settings on your E-reader to further enhance readability by increasing the margins to augment the white space—which Bryan Garner says makes the text look more inviting and roomy.[4]You can also change font and make other revisions to the text.
E-readers also include the ability to use a shortcut tool—like Ctrl- F—to find any word or phrase you want in the text. It happens far too often, mainly when writing papers, that I remember a concept from a textbook, treatise, or the like, but cannot find it in the book—the E-book helps remediate this issue. I suppose one could also use this tool to quickly educate themselves when a professor begins speaking about an unheard of concept.
The last advantage I found is that you can often sample E-books before buying it. I know this is true for the Kindle but my hunch is that this is also the same for other E-readers out there, especially ones that sync up to Amazon. This is beneficial to those students wanting to try out supplements before purchasing to make sure the format and style of the supplement resonates well with you. I talked about how you are going to “click” better with some supplements over others in my previous post. The ability to sample the E-book can help expedite your supplement-selection process and save you a trip to the library—and consider that your library may not carry every supplement or the current edition.
Well, I intended this post to include both the pros and cons of E-books as well as the pros and cons of printed text, but I got a little carried away because of my love for E-books. I will address these neglected issues in later posts under the same title: E-Reader or Print?

If I have persuaded you to forego waiting for the next posts and just go ahead and buy a kindle now, I am attaching a link to Amazon for the one that I have. Note, I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a commission for your purchase.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/why-digital-natives-prefer-reading-in-print-yes-you-read-that-right/2015/02/22/8596ca86-b871-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html
[2] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/heavy-backpacks-can-spell-chronic-back-pain-for-children/
[3] No this is not because I read incredibly dense books, I just have a terrible vocabulary. . .
[4] Bryan Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English §42 (2ed., The University of Chicago Press 2013). 

Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

“Ill choose my targets with care . . . then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”

Cal Newport’s latest book, Deep Work, provides any student, practitioner, or academic the insight to build and hone a successful legal career. Law is a notoriously complex, frustrating field. As a young associate, you must learn about novel issues in short amount of time, and subsequently produce valuable insight to demanding (rightly so) clients or supervisors.  My experience with studying law, which has only been as a student and summer associate, has been vitally missing what Cal Newport calls Deep Work—a skill necessary to achieve optimal productivity. Fortunately, for those like myself who have up to this point been missing out on Deep Work, the rest of the population doesn’t possess the skill either. Why not? Well, it has to do with the fact that we are constantly consumed by online media and other day-to-day distractions that channeled through the internet and our smart phones.
Let me start by saying that at base, Deep Work is a really valuable asset. I have been engaging in Deep Work for the last couple weeks and my productivity in writing a Law Review article has increased tremendously. I also enjoy “going Deep” and receive a level of satisfaction (a type of emptied-out feeling) after that I don’t often experience when working in a distracting environment.
 Thus, this book can help you gain an asset, but I don’t quite know how to categorize the book’s genre. It’s neither a garden-variety self help book, nor a business book with general principles about how to succeed in your respective field. It is really a “Skills” book that teaches you ways to become extremely productive in any field that requires periods of learning new tasks. In fact, it is really no different than a “how to” book describing the ways to build something. But instead of building something tangible, you begin to build something much greater: the ability to focus in a way unparalleled to the majority of the population. In a profession where you can see students and practitioners alike checking their email or other distracting websites every couple minutes, the ability to focus is becoming a lost art, but also a competitive advantage.
But what is Deep Work? It is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Newport explains that people have been engaging in Deep Work far before the writing of this book and describes the habits and satisfaction various professionals, old and young (i.e., Carl Jung and Adam Grant) gain from Deep Work. And, upon completion of this book, you too will be increasingly excited to start your next project or complete your next “Deep” task—not everything we engage in on a daily basis is considered Deep Work (think answering emails or reading a well-written secondary source vs. writing a research paper or drafting a motion on summary judgment). Upon completion of this book, you will be inspired to shut off your smart phone for prolonged periods of time and decline frequent ESPN visits or Reddit visits from this day forward. The difference in productivity is palpable.
In today’s industry, everyone wants to be productive. Everyone wants to be efficient. But not everybody wants to implement the steps to get there; this book will show you the steps and urge you to follow them in a decidedly persuasive fashion. 
I could go into further specifics about the tactics Professor Newport applies, but, unfortunately, as experience dictates, my attempts to explain such tactics has proved unsatisfying. Thus, Ill leave Professor Newport to fill in all the gaps for you, but not before I leave you with my favorite principle from the book: Attention Residue. This principle dictates that people are increasingly less productive when they constantly switch tasks instead of focusing all their attention on a single subject. This reduced productivity results because the other less important task(s) work as a distraction that remains on your subconscious mind. So, when in the middle of performing a cognitively demanding task like writing a brief, think twice before you switch out of Westlaw and decide to briefly check Facebook; opening that tab will can a residual-type effect that impedes your ability to focus once you get back to brief writing.  
 Hopefully this review will inspire you to check out this book so you too can develop the skills necessary to cultivate both Deep Work and success in your profession. You can find the link to the book here: 


 Disclaimer: I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a commission if you buy this book using this link. In addition, please let me know if there are any questions I can answer about this book, or Deep Work in general.

Thanks, Matt

For a great youtube video on Deep Work, check out Brian Johnson’s channel here.