Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Scheherazade asks, "If you could give up all awareness and/or consciousness of what is "cool," would you?". It seems to me that there are several possible responses to this: (1) Relax, Scheherazade, you are cool, and you spend more time than is altogether seemly in a person of your attainments worrying about this; (B)in the alternative, unlearning "cool" might be the key to developing personal style; or (iii)is "cool" really learned?

When in doubt, go Socratic, I say. It is my growing conviction that almost everything is learned, and it seems to me that cool is no exception. On Saturday, out running on what will probably be the first of about a dozen pre-LA sessions with Jim we were talking about how we planned on approaching a winter's worth of marathon training. "I think I figured out what what wrong last time," Jim said. "I figured that I'd be able to get through with the long runs on the weekends, and I didn't do as many of the shorter runs during the week. This time I'm going to approach it like the bar exam. If you do what they tell you, you'll get through okay."

One of the things that was reassuring about the last time was that because the program we were following said to do it, I pretty much felt like, "Okay, I can do it." And the payoff was just as Jim described it. But what an interesting thing that is, when you break it down. On Thanksgiving when I woke Emily up she murmured,"I don't know how to run five miles." In fact, she does, and if you wanna run 26.2, you can learn how to do that, too.

Years ago i thought that they only way to learn most of what I do for a living-- taking depositions, trying cases, negotiating-- was to do it a lot. Any landing you walked away from in the process was a good one. Of course that's not true, and now I teach how to take a deposition. I wish someone had thought to teach me, but it probably wouldn't have took. I pretty much knew everything back then, and one of the things that I knew was that some talents are bred in the bone. I was, for example, innately good at seeing both sides of an issue, and therefore able to argue either side. On the other hand, I was innately bad at anything mathematical, and therefore even attempting things that required that skill set was pointless. This, I have come to believe, is nonsense. Math is taught badly, and many people end up like me as a result, sweating and hyperventilating when confronted with a column of numbers, but this is merely a neurotic response, and has nothing to do with any innate intellectual ability, or lack.

I think that cool may be like that, too. Certain basics are learned: 2+2=4; pants that are too short look dorky, but at some point the nuances-- the ability to match a patterned tie with a striped shirt, are learned, or not learned, and we develop the set of neurotic tics that inhibit us from being as cool as we might be.

There are limits, to be sure. I am never going to learn to run like Bill Rogers. I will never learn to be as cool as Miles Davis. But I have come to believe that I am a lot more trainable than I'd have ever thought. "Math yields to brute force," says Captain X, and I am thinking that probably most things do.

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