As seasoned attorneys, sometimes we don’t ponder enough. We are busy. With experience, we have seen it before, and that experience allows for faster solutions for the client (and begets higher billing rates). This has worked before, so this is a good solution. However, is that going to be the best solution for the issue to be resolved? Maybe, because you came up with it previously, and you must have had good reasoning . But maybe it was not the best solution. Perhaps you need to break down the issue and build a new way of looking at the issue.
Which brings me to the obvious superiority of the intern mind. This is a corollary to a podcast by Freakonomics I recently listened to on my morning run about the value of an inexperienced mind. The podcast spoke about how the inexperienced mind begins looking at problems in questioning, different ways than the experienced mind. The thought process is not impeded by previously derived solutions. Rather, the inexperienced mind is allowed to look more holistically at a problem and ask all of the questions that we might think are too menial to ask. But they may be important in solving the problem in a new way. I loved the idea and could not get it out of mind for the rest of the day.
I get knocks on my door occasionally from one of our interns, and I turn to see a sheepish look and it tells me that they feel 1) that they have a stupid question and 2) they are concerned about interrupting me. Neither should be a concern. There are no stupid questions, and when you are tackling a tough legal problem that you have not seen before, it is essential that you break it down into stupid questions. That is how you learn. And by stopping by and asking a partner or associate these questions, you are helping them rethink their process as well. This is the mutually beneficial aspect of mentoring. Relish your insecurity as being unleashed by previously thought out solutions. Run with it, play with it, and then fashion your response.
The mind is a beautiful thing, and the inexperienced mind can be an inquisitive, inspiring, creative thing when we allow it to be. And that’s what we should allow interns to do. It makes law fun, and interesting and growing. And that leads to an inspiring practice. In fact, maybe a few of us old salts ought to practice thinking like an intern.
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Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 619.515.3277.