Re: Idle Thought For Junior Lawyers

1

This applies to asking for statistical advice too.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 6:36 AM
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There's an abbreviation for this in the programming community---my memory is failing me right now---the gist of which is "tell us what you're trying to do, not just the specific step where you failed." I see this kind of thing all the time from my junior colleagues and suspect its universal across all fields.


Posted by: Yawnoc | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 7:34 AM
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2: WAYRTTD - "What Are You Really Trying To Do?"
Definitely an important concept.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 7:49 AM
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4

I find this in teaching too; it's the main reason I refuse to answer anything not very obvious (ie what time is the paper due) by email.


Posted by: Ali | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 7:49 AM
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5

Sort of like how a post with crisp piece of useful advice generates much less commenting activity than one which is more meandering and stream-of-conscious.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 8:57 AM
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This is outstanding advice. I wonder if there's something culturally American about it, like you're always supposed to seem super-duper well-informed, and if you need clarification it's only on this ONE REALLY TEENSY THING, because other than that, you're totally an expert and got this thing down pat.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 9:07 AM
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I'd never give the advice in the post to anyone I wasn't already sure was basically competent. I'd much rather ask somebody to elaborate than to get to the point.

I'm very tired if people asking me long-winded questions as a way to clarify their own thinking. Or asking rambling questions as a way to hide the real issue and get me to say 'yes' to something that is really stupid.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 9:14 AM
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Incentives matter a lot-- when people understand what their proximal and distant goals are, open questions and discussion are great.

When there is disagreement about goals (factions within an organisation, or loosely cooperating groups), open questions can be pretty dangerous, since small disagreements can spiral up. Obviously, resources play in as well-- underfunded work is often looser and less focused.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 9:25 AM
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In some ways, once you've got basic legal knowledge down, good lawyering is pretty much exclusively coming up with variants on WAYRTTD and KISS.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 9:31 AM
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I have noticed this a lot with more experienced lawyers. Like, when they are asking questions, they give WAYYYYYY more information than I would usually give. I am like dude why are you giving that extraneous fact?

But I'm starting to get why they do it.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 9:32 AM
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I also find that not infrequently, talking through the shape of a case (whether with someone more senior or more junior) can improve my own understanding of it even before the other person says anything; and questions they may have lead to further development even if they don't fully understand it themselves.

A lot of clients these days do hate paying for "nonessential conferences within the firm," though.


Posted by: widget | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 10:02 AM
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talking through the shape of a case (whether with someone more senior or more junior) can improve my own understanding of it even before the other person says anything;

Heh. Back when I used to work with Idealist, I had a nasty habit of walking into his office, rambling on about a case for a couple of minutes to set up a question, figuring it out for myself in the course of my rambling, and saying "Never mind, I got it," and leaving.

I think this behavior may be why he doesn't approve of liberals.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 10:05 AM
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I'd never give the advice in the post to anyone I wasn't already sure was basically competent.

Yes, it depends on the person you're working with. For people who haven't developed the conceptual skills necessary to think at the abstract, big-picture level, and to imagine things from other person's perspective, I spend a lot of time (encouraging, teaching, or sometimes ordering) them to do that. For them, being able to cut to the chase is a skill they don't currently have, in part because they're not good at discriminating.

Being able to think: "What am I trying to do? Why do I think this person can help me? What information do I want to walk away with from this encounter?" is a developmental scheme that some people develop as 10- to 12-year-olds, other people learn in college, and other people make it to midlife without being to articulate. Encouraging a person who is at this developmental stage to just walk into your office and start rambling is a recipe for extreme frustration, unless you have the skills and patience to facilitate their rambling and help them develop those schemes.

For people who have the "How to ask a really concise question" part down pat, the problem is often what Stanley identifies in 6. They ask ONLY that question, because they're so worried about looking dumb or imposing on someone else's time and expertise, and they often end up haring down the wrong trail because the person didn't get enough context to give them a useful response, or steer them away from their wild-good chase.

I like WAYRTTD. I'll use that.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 10:40 AM
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I think most people who've made it through law school are at the stage where they're capable of cutting to the chase -- I've never had my attention really abused by someone rambling unnecessarily unless they were senior to me and doing it as a dominance display (that happens all the time, but it's not an issue for junior people).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 10:44 AM
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When I was learning programming I worked hard to develop a mental habit of cataloging everything that I knew about the problem before asking a question.

When something didn't work I would sit down and say, "in what exact circumstances doesn't this work? What possible causes of failure can I rule out (e.g., "I know that I'm connected to the database because 'select 1' works correctly)?

It was a lot of work but frequently I could answer my own question and, when I couldn't, it helped me both learn programming and ask better questions.

[FWIW, this was the same period in my life that I had the longer bike commute mentioned in the other thread].

Now that I've gotten more experience I will sometimes get lazy about that, but it's worth practicing that skill sometimes.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 10:49 AM
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16

seems like the sort of thing that ought to be taught in schools or similar


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 10:54 AM
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17

What do you know, I just had a problem today which I solved by the process of just walking through everything that I could find out about it, and trying to figure out what that meant.

The problem was only mildly annoying, and one which I knew would have gone away on it's own if I'd waited, but I got sufficiently frustrated with waiting that I decided to poke around at.

Interestingly the last time this problem came up -- the time that I found out that it would solve itself eventually I was much less successful at investigating it because it was a surprise and I was under more time pressure.

So don't underestimate the value of trying to narrow down a question as precisely as possible -- as long as you're accurate in the process of narrowing down.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 11:52 AM
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18

Sometime I do this badly as part of trying to pretend to be more competent than I am in hardware/plumbing supply stores or when I am trying to do something particularly half-assed. Fortunately the good hardware guys recognize the symptoms ("I want 50 feet of wire cable, a double-Y joint, welder's mask, 17 hex bolts and 10 pounds of spackle.") and jump into the WAYRTTD routine.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 12:19 PM
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18 -- That is me pretty much every time I'm in a hardware store.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 12:21 PM
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Our local hardware store is good for that sort of advice-getting; usually, another customer or two will also chime with ideas. Unfortunately, that hardware store is closed on Sundays, so I usually end up alone at Lowe's staring blankly at plumbing supplies without an employee in sight.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 12:26 PM
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I am not-at-all handy. On a project a while back I ended up going to the hardware three times before I got the correct screws.

I should feel more comfortable asking questions, but I'm usually so self-conscious about my lack of knowledge that I just wander around feeling lost.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 12:30 PM
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I had a nasty habit of walking into his office, rambling on about a case for a couple of minutes to set up a question, figuring it out for myself in the course of my rambling, and saying "Never mind, I got it," and leaving.

Happens all the time. I sometimes ask colleagues to let me explain a problem to them even when they aren't likely to have any special insight into it, just because the process of explaining it might give me more clarity on the solution. But we're graduate students, our time is cheap.


Posted by: Yawnoc | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 12:34 PM
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23

don't try to save their time by crafting a tightly framed specific question

at least, not when you bill by the hour.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 12:56 PM
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24

18: I had a weirdly complementary experience in Best Buy the other day, where I knew what I wanted, but described it inexactly ("I want, like, a converter from HDMI to mini-DVI and that weird optical thing they have inside the headphone jack on macs", and so on), and the guy responded with some of the most hilarious upsell gibberish I've ever heard. The best past when I asked if they had any long HDMI cables less expensive than the $150 (!) Monster Cables and they guy said no, they didn't, because in order to run HDMI over those kinds of distances you really needed the expensive cables, which have more gigabits.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 1:00 PM
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25

And then I found five 143 dollars when I bought the cable for $7 on Amazon.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 1:01 PM
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26

Fuck you, strikethrough.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 1:01 PM
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27

I sometimes ask colleagues to let me explain a problem to them even when they aren't likely to have any special insight into it, just because the process of explaining it might give me more clarity on the solution.

Similar to 22, this is 2/3 of my office hours. I ask the student to explain the problem up to where they got stuck, and they're able to figure out what they were hung up on, on their own.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 1:07 PM
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24 gets it right. I can talk to a friend who knows about cars, and develop a total comprehension of what my car needs and why it needs it, and then when I go into the garage I screw up immediately and reveal myself by forgetting the word "axle" and calling it the "brake rod" or something.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 1:08 PM
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29

Requirements analysis is like this a lot. What is it that you are trying to do? is usually a few rounds. The first answer is often too technical and not necessarily what the organization needs.

Even with colleagues who should know better I have had the experience of someone saying that they needed a relational database when in fact Excel (using pivot tables and functions) could do the job after I showed them how. Big saving of money and time for almost everyone.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 3:48 PM
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30

I once paid $100-ish for a Monster HDMI cable because it was the only one in the store. Never again!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 4:17 PM
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31

30: it's really insanely ridiculous. It's a fucking digital cable!

Sheesh.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 4:25 PM
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32

Best Buy should really be known as the Sucka Shop, which is presumably why they've done so well in a terrible environment for electronics retailers.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 4:26 PM
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33

You can get oral sex digital cables go for around 50.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 4:26 PM
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34

24: The best past when I asked if they had any long HDMI cables less expensive than the $150 (!) Monster Cables and they guy said no, they didn't, because in order to run HDMI over those kinds of distances you really needed the expensive cables, which have more gigabits.

"Speaking of which, can I interest you in this extra-large mouse? Hell, what am I sayin', 'mouse!' It's more like a rat!"


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 4:39 PM
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35

Big hands means big tails.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 4:49 PM
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36

||
Has anyone heard the term "g" used to refer to a bottle (I'm assuming a 1-litre/1000 milliliters size) of alcohol?

As in:
"What're they drinking over there?"
"A case of beer."
"Aw, you know I don't drink no beer!"
"Oh, and they got a "g" of Bacardi"

||>


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 4:56 PM
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Clients do this all the time.

They spend 30 mins telling you some crazy story and then you finally figure out that their issue has almost nothing to do with their story.

Sometimes, I make them ask me the question first and then tell me their story.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 5:57 PM
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38

36: No.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 6:23 PM
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I worked hard to develop a mental habit of cataloging everything that I knew about the problem before asking a question

In my experience, whether this is wise or not depends quite a bit on who you're going to be asking the question of. I work with someone who has a habit of firing questions at me about the problem at hand: "Did you check x?" "Is it a case of y?" "How many z's are there?" and so on.

Presenting a question in a form that explains what you are trying to do without having the answers to those questions at the ready is an annoyance to both parties.

The legal world may be somewhat distinct: as unimaginative mentioned upthread, you may well be billing the client for conferences within the firm. Certainly I find lengthy, non-targeted communications with the lawyer for my mom's estate to be irritating. (Please state your point, or question, briefly. Please do not spend 15 minutes writing a lengthy email reviewing everything we've already discussed, as a lead-in. I know all that. What do you need?)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-11-10 6:24 PM
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25: There is a really awesome store online which only sells cables, and they are super cheap. (I will find out the name!) The shipping costs more than the cables, but they're still cheaper and it's good quality.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-12-10 3:38 PM
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41

40: Monoprice.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08-12-10 3:51 PM
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42

37 to 36, of course.

re: 18 ff.

I'm reminded of a sweet & sentimental song which, when I try to sing along, has been known to make me tear up.


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 08-12-10 6:41 PM
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