Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

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timmyd
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Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby timmyd » Thu Jun 08, 2017 10:05 pm

Some background: I did well in law school. After partying my way through undergrad, I found myself at a ttt where I finished 1l top 6% and transferred to UT/Vandy/GULC and finished somewhere in the top 15%. I then completed a federal district clerkship. I was told early that I needed to improve my writing and endeavored to accomplish that. After about six months I received no criticism--no praise, mind you--but no criticism either.

Now, I work at a boutique type litigation shop. I practice heavily in federal court, mostly defending municipalities and law enforcement agencies. I've been at this firm for nine months and it has been trial by fire. I've completed federal appellate briefs and multiple motions for summary judgment in federal court. Today, the partner I work for, whom I greatly admire and is super nice, essentially told me my writing needed to improve--perhaps vastly. No issues with substance really, just the writing. My writing apparently lacks precision and concision. I feel really dejected. I also feel like I should already be a good writer following the clerkship. I know writing criticism is somewhat frequent for recent graduates, but I've been practicing nine months and wrote for a living as a clerk. At what point do I need to become concerned regarding my longevity in this practice? When do you know you just don't have "it"?

ernie
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby ernie » Thu Jun 08, 2017 10:13 pm

This isn't responsive to your question, but I highly recommend Bryan Garner's works. Garner's Modern English Usage is on the App Store and I consult it regularly.

timmyd
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby timmyd » Thu Jun 08, 2017 10:16 pm

Thanks. I've consulted a wide variety of legal writing books--including Gardner. Strangely, I feel that some of the advice on usage in these books has been negatively received. Both my judge and partner I work for, as an example, forbid sentences starting with "and" or "but." Their writing style is more formal.

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby MikeSpivey » Thu Jun 08, 2017 11:20 pm

timmyd wrote:Thanks. I've consulted a wide variety of legal writing books--including Gardner. Strangely, I feel that some of the advice on usage in these books has been negatively received. Both my judge and partner I work for, as an example, forbid sentences starting with "and" or "but." Their writing style is more formal.


Sincere question, how old are you?

mcmand
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby mcmand » Thu Jun 08, 2017 11:29 pm

Subscribing to this thread because I will be a first year associate in the fall and I want to soak up any advice on writing I can.

(PS: OP, I'm rooting for you, and I'm sure you are a more than capable attorney! :D )

timmyd
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby timmyd » Thu Jun 08, 2017 11:37 pm

I'm 28

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MikeSpivey
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby MikeSpivey » Thu Jun 08, 2017 11:52 pm

timmyd wrote:I'm 28


My guess is you are super talented and cut out for this. The same people critiquing you, they had it much worse at 28. They were getting hammered by the partners back then, trust me I have seen it.

I'm 45. My generation was lackluster -- we didn't get our acts together until our 30's. Each generation has their issues for certain. Yours is more talented by leaps. But also more neurotic and as a corollary, not at great with criticism.

I'd embrace it. Trust me when I say that you don't critique someone you don't see a bright future in. We are all too busy these days.

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Jun 09, 2017 6:59 am

So, your comment about the Bryan Garner stuff makes it sound like your partners have very distinct stylistic preferences. That's something that can be learned, and has to be learned because it's not like anyone is born knowing how other specific people want you to write. So maybe one way to look at this isn't that you need to learn to write, period, but you need to learn to write *for them*? In that respect it's not so much about your ability as the context.

Another thing to consider is that them talking to you about your writing is a sign that they're happy with the rest of your work - you've been there 9 months, you've shown you can hack it generally - now it's time to dig in and polish the stuff that can be improved. They may not have much incentive to devote time to improving your writing until they feel invested in you and want to keep you around.

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Nebby
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby Nebby » Fri Jun 09, 2017 8:06 am

timmyd wrote:Thanks. I've consulted a wide variety of legal writing books--including Gardner. Strangely, I feel that some of the advice on usage in these books has been negatively received. Both my judge and partner I work for, as an example, forbid sentences starting with "and" or "but." Their writing style is more formal.

This is a small thing, but Microsoft Word actually has a pretty advanced proofing system. You know how it will underline in red misspelled words? Well you can also turn on other things, such as passive voice check, which will continuously read the text and underline anything it thinks is in passive voice. It's not perfect, but it has greatly improved my ability to speak in more concise and more purposeful language. I used to be really bad with using passive voice, but this feature helps a lot. It has other features. I recommend turning on all of the grammar check options. If you tell me what version of Microsoft Word you use, then I can post a link to how to turn this on.

LurkerTurnedMember
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby LurkerTurnedMember » Fri Jun 09, 2017 11:05 am

I have the following three comments for you regarding your post. First, as other people have mentioned, the partner made that comment to you at least in part because you aren't meeting his writing preferences, not necessarily because you are a bad writer in general. I have no issue with starting sentences with "And" or "But," for example, and I've done that in rulings for a judge I clerked for before. Good transitional language is always helpful. In contrast, another judge I worked for hated transitional language altogether and would want it, including words like "and" or "but," taken out. It actually made the writing worse in my opinion, but it was that judge's unique preference that had to be followed.

Second, if it makes you feel better, the partner probably sucks at writing, too. You've clerked before. You should know how many lawyers, even partners at firms, submit briefs that suck. Sometimes I wondered what they were even trying to say.

Third, here is a critical writing tip every writer needs to know: you have to get the forest straight first before tending to the trees. In other words, every piece of writing has to go from general to specific, always. This requires you to understand the organization of your writing first before writing it. And once you start writing, you need to have a sentence or paragraph toward the front explaining the forest (the organization of the piece), including one such paragraph in each section/subsection if appropriate. Then, each following paragraph individually should have its topic sentence as the first sentence such that I could read only the first sentence of each paragraph in the piece and know exactly what you're saying. Then, fill out each paragraph with details.

Take this response as an example. The sentence explaining the forest is the very first one: "I have the following three comments for you regarding your post." It clearly tells you this forest has three trees. Then, each of the three comments has its own paragraph, with the topic sentence telling you exactly what the comment is. "First, as other people have mentioned, the partner made that comment to you at least in part because you aren't meeting his writing preferences, not necessarily because you are a bad writer in general." "Second, if it makes you feel better, the partner probably sucks at writing, too." "Third, here is a critical writing tip every writer needs to know: you have to get the forest straight first before tending to the trees. In other words, every piece of writing has to go from general to specific, always." Just reading that tells you what I'm saying. Then each paragraph (the remaining language) explains the details.

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PeanutsNJam
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby PeanutsNJam » Fri Jun 09, 2017 11:49 am

How is your relationship with the judge you clerked for? Could you get in touch with him sometime and see if he has any comments on your writing?

Are partner redlines of your work mostly style or are they correcting bad grammar/word choice/etc.?

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ExBiglawAssociate
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby ExBiglawAssociate » Fri Jun 09, 2017 8:09 pm

It helps to remember that law is a profession that eats its young. What I mean by that is that very few experienced attorneys will take the time to train/help you. They just expect you to be perfect all the time from the get go, which is stupid, but that's just the way it is. Also, most lawyers are condescending assholes who think they're many times smarter than you because they've been practicing for a while. The most important thing is to not get discouraged and remember that many of these people have severe mental illnesses that make them the way they are. Try to correct what is legitimately wrong about your writing (some good tips on that itt), but more importantly just keep your head up and ignore the haters.

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rpupkin
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby rpupkin » Fri Jun 09, 2017 8:47 pm

ExBiglawAssociate wrote:It helps to remember that law is a profession that eats its young. What I mean by that is that very few experienced attorneys will take the time to train/help you. They just expect you to be perfect all the time from the get go, which is stupid, but that's just the way it is. Also, most lawyers are condescending assholes who think they're many times smarter than you because they've been practicing for a while. The most important thing is to not get discouraged and remember that many of these people have severe mental illnesses that make them the way they are. Try to correct what is legitimately wrong about your writing (some good tips on that itt), but more importantly just keep your head up and ignore the haters.

There's some truth to the above, but OP isn't dealing with, say, passive-aggressive comments from stressed-out senior associates. The judge he clerked for and the partner he works with (who, OP says, is "super nice") both went out of their way to talk to OP about problems with his writing. If I were OP, I'd take the criticism seriously, as he appears to be doing.

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ExBiglawAssociate
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby ExBiglawAssociate » Fri Jun 09, 2017 8:56 pm

rpupkin wrote:
ExBiglawAssociate wrote:It helps to remember that law is a profession that eats its young. What I mean by that is that very few experienced attorneys will take the time to train/help you. They just expect you to be perfect all the time from the get go, which is stupid, but that's just the way it is. Also, most lawyers are condescending assholes who think they're many times smarter than you because they've been practicing for a while. The most important thing is to not get discouraged and remember that many of these people have severe mental illnesses that make them the way they are. Try to correct what is legitimately wrong about your writing (some good tips on that itt), but more importantly just keep your head up and ignore the haters.

There's some truth to the above, but OP isn't dealing with, say, passive-aggressive comments from stressed-out senior associates. The judge he clerked for and the partner he works with (who, OP says, is "super nice") both went out of their way to talk to OP about problems with his writing. If I were OP, I'd take the criticism seriously, as he appears to be doing.

Definitely take the criticism seriously, but just be aware of the zeitgeist in law, which was what I was getting at. Even the "nice" senior attorneys generally don't have the time and/or personalities to be charitable and walk you through what needs to be improved.

timmyd
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Re: Am I not cut out for this? How to know when criticism is normal or when you just suck

Postby timmyd » Sat Jun 10, 2017 11:29 am

Thanks for all the advice in this thread. I'm definitely taking it seriously. I should note, though, that I have also received some high praise from another partner I did some work for. Given my clerkship, I've developed a kind of reputation as the go to associate in the firm for more complex federal court issues so that's good.

But I know I need to improve my writing. I just need to spend more time editing I think. I need to be much more direct with my language which is an art form in itself




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