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Articles published in the Richland County Bar Association's Richbar News

Worrying

November 20, 2012Richbar News Articles

Do you have any recurring dreams?  I have one and it’s actually more of a nightmare.   It’s my  3rd Year at USC Law School.  It’s the last day of the last semester when I discover that I’ve forgotten to go to the required math class (I know — no math in law school, stay with me).  This class has met every day.  Now it’s time for the final exam on “Advanced Algetrigacalculculogicas.” Fail it, and I don’t graduate.  The professor stalks around the room handing out test booklets the thickness of the Dallas phone book.  I look at mine.  It appears to be comprised of characters from an ancient Proto-Siniatic alphabet.  Everyone else starts scribbling frantically.  Uh-oh.  At least in this recurring dream I’m wearing clothes to class.  Usually.

In the real world, of course, law school was 20 years ago.  There was, thank God, no math class.  For the most part, the professors posed questions written in something that looked like English.  I wore clothes to every class and they let me graduate.  So, how can a decades-old experience still prompt the occasional subconscious nocturnal freak-out?

Maybe the answer is found in the personality of lawyers.   There’s a psychologist named Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania who studies happiness.  He’s studied dozens of professions and found that optimists outperformed pessimists in every profession except one.  Guess which one?  Ours.  Seligman theorized that lawyers are trained to constantly seek out “worst case scenarios.”  Thus, pessimistic lawyers outperform optimistic ones.  Ouch.

Ok, so we worry a lot.  But how much of what we worry about ever comes true?  Well, psychologists have studied that too.  In a now famous 1990 study, researchers Wells and Mathews at the University of Cincinnati discovered that 85% of what we worry about NEVER actually happens.  The 15% of the time that something does happen, we handle it effectively 79% of the time.   I’m no math whiz, but that would seem to mean that of all the things were worry about, only about 3% of the time something bad happens that we don’t handle well.

So….maybe…we shouldn’t worry so much?

This was, ironically, my message to students at USC Law last week, some of whom were 3L’s standing on the precipice of graduation in an abysmal job market.  USC invited me to talk to about twelve students at a breakfast.  Although I secretly feared it was a ruse designed to make me take the missing Algetrigacalculculogicas test, I went anyway.  I’m really glad I did.  The students were bright, positive, optimistic, and well-prepared for practice.  Their suits were much nicer than mine.  I have no doubt they will succeed fantastically.

This morning meeting is a regular thing set up by Jill Kunkle at the law school’s Career Services office.  I highly recommend that you call or e-mail Jill (777-6917; KunkleJ@law.sc.edu).  And if you’re on the fence about this, two (four?) words — “free Chick-Fil-A.”   If you can’t make it to the law school, Jill can even send a student to your office to talk about your practice for a half an hour or so.

Think back to when you were a 3L facing the bar exam and an uncertain future.  Then think of all things you worried about that never happened.  Think of all the things that went right to get you where you are now.  Be thankful for all of it.  Then share those thoughts with students and younger lawyers.  We were all there once.

Sleep well.

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