This afternoon Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh discussed his personal belief of what will happen in the Republican primary and his prognostication skills in picking the winner months ago and how the Republican “establishment” will react to Mitt Romney. What caught my attention was not what Rush was saying, but what he meant. When he said that he sees “the stitches on a fastball” he meant that his experience and knowledge allow him to have confidence in certain predictions or decisions. It is not surprising that such a public and popular political pundit would think so highly of themselves or their intelligence; however, it is how he said it that stuck a cord with me.
I couldn’t help but think of this after I played basketball today and how clear it is when one player demonstrates their superior talent through distinct play. Every basketball player has different levels of talent, skill, and ability. Generally, with experience skill and ability improve and can distinguish a player from his peers. Whether it is a crisp, precise pass in traffic or knowing how to smoothly fit into the flow of the game, experienced players become evident early in a game because of the small things they do. Sure, someone like Lebron James can wow you with an athletic dunk. However, what makes him, and others, great is their ability to excel at the small things in a game that make a big difference. Many times that is passing, how a player sees the game, their defense, and how they lead their team. This is comparable to law school where over time each person develops and improves their legal skills and can differentiate themselves based on their overall ability or by specializing in a particular field.
That said, I think the best sports comparable to law school is that of Minor League Baseball. Think about it, when you begin law school and have no clue what you are doing, it is as if you are in Rookie Ball. Sure, A Ball is the lowest level, but it also is where you either make the cut or you don’t. There are no second chances at that level. Teams are willing to wait some time for higher level prospects to develop, but will not wait for a rookie to develop if it is clear that they cannot make the initial cut. As you move through the first year, you progress through A Ball from low-A to high-A. You begin to understand what it required of you to succeed and what to expect at that level. Even though everything is new to you, you have to adapt to survive. If you survive, then you move up to AA and continue your development.
As a second year student you are most definitely in AA. By this point there is no excuse for not knowing what is expected of you and what you have to do in order to continue developing and moving toward the Major Leagues. AA is all about focusing on further developing certain skills in the hope that you will have the opportunity to display them in the Majors. That is not easy but with hard work it can become a reality. Perhaps where the comparison really becomes more apparent and real is in the summer after the second year of law school. That is when students earn and acquire an internship that they hope will lead to a full-time job once they graduate law school. This is just like a September Call-up where a baseball team will give certain minor league prospects the opportunity to be exposed to the Majors in the last month of the season. Usually players come up for a few weeks and receive minimal playing time. However, they gain valuable experience which they can then use to help improve in the offseason. If they play really well, then they might play in the Majors the next season. That is rare. Instead, most players will return to AA or AAA for another season before they become ready for the Major Leagues.
After that, it is time for the third year and AAA. This is the last stop before MLB and the last opportunity to improve on critical skills before making to The Show. The players who differentiate themselves are the ones who have multiple “tools” or skills that make them better players. The same is true for law students who make have a higher GPA, be on law review or moot court, or be involved in particular prestigious and respected organizations. Regardless of the activity, it is the same as a baseball tool. The typical baseball tools are fielding, throwing, hitting for power, hitting for average, and base running. Ultimately, the goal of law school and minor league baseball are the same. They both strive to develop and improve people for the highest level of their profession with the hope that they will achieve that pinnacle and perform at a high level.
To go back to Rush’s quote, it is not about what you think you know, it is about what you have learned through experience and how you apply that experience to your profession and life. That certainly is the goal of law school and of any profession. No one is fully prepared when they begin working in a particular area. However, with time and experience, they improve and can become stalwarts in their field.