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Chop Wood, Carry Water – Book Review

Guest Post by Baylor Law Student Samantha Chaiken

The following post is a book review written by Samantha Chaiken, a student in our summer 2021 Leadership Class. As I reflect on Samantha’s thoughts below, two points seem particularly relevant to our discussion this month on the importance of wellness:

  • The author states that the training of our law students becomes their baseline to which they will revert when under pressure. What if we do not address the need to prioritize wellness? Shouldn’t we model and teach them how to do so? We know our students will have challenging times ahead. Let’s help them develop healthy coping mechanisms to be better prepared to weather their storms in law school and beyond.

  • A favorite lesson from the book was about the danger of ‘comparison left unchecked.’ Comparison, which is built into the fabric of law school, is often necessary and constructive; yet an environment of constant comparison can be taken too far and lead to unhealthy feelings about one’s self-worth or abilities and can rob us of our joy. Leadership development programming can help our students learn to cope as we emphasize developing grit, resilience, and a growth mindset to encourage students to view feedback constructively and failure as a normal aspect of their progression.

I hope you enjoy this book review as much as I did. – Leah

Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf, is exactly as advertised. The book truly takes you through, chapter by chapter, how to fall in love with the process of becoming great. This leadership book is a quick read with each chapter providing a powerful lesson.

The book follows the story of John, a boy who dreamed of becoming a samurai warrior, specifically, an archer. John traveled to Japan where he enrolled as an apprentice to a small community of samurais. It is there that John meets a friendly old sensei by the name of Akira. Much like the Karate Kid, rather than “wax on, wax off,” Akira taught John how to “chop wood, carry water.” In each chapter of the book, Akira teaches John an important lesson that brings John closer to his goal of becoming a samurai warrior.

Lessons Learned

 Although there are many, one of my favorite lessons from the book is that “comparison is the thief of all joy.” One day as John was struggling, he was jealous of how easy things seemingly came to his peers while he had to work so hard and still not do as well as his peers. Akira pulled John aside and told him that he must focus on his journey and his alone. Otherwise, he would run the risk of not only losing his joy, but also losing any chance of true success in the long run.

One of my favorite quotes was Akira telling John, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” This lesson truly resonated with me. As law students, we are constantly placed in positions of comparison.  We are constantly comparing grades, class performance, titles, positions on Law Review or in student organizations, and in many other aspects of our law school experience. With so much comparison, we lose our joy. We forget our prior successes that led us to law school in the first place. We diminish our accomplishments while in law school because there is seemingly always another classmate who did better than us. We fail to put our experiences in perspective.

This same phenomenon happens to lawyers in the real world as well. Only the subject matter of the comparison changes. That is why it is so important to take a minute to reflect on your own personal journey and the progress YOU have made. Otherwise, comparison is going to steal all your joy.

The book also teaches that “under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” As I read through the chapter, I had to take a moment to be thankful that I attend Baylor Law. Though the training may be rigorous, and perhaps feels impossible at times, I know that under pressure I will be able to perform at an extremely high level.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this book – to law students, lawyers, or to anyone for that matter. This book will teach you, test you, and bring you to tears. Each lesson truly packs a punch. I had the opportunity to read this book during my time in Practice Court. I think it helped me to keep my journey in perspective. There were so many days when I would start reading and could not help but cry because the lesson was so applicable to what I was going through at the time.

If you are seeking to improve your leadership abilities, you must first look within yourself. This book will assist you along your journey of becoming great. However, even the book itself provides a warning that it is not enough to simply read the book and learn the principles, you must apply them in your everyday life no matter how challenging it may be.

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Artful Listening – “Sometimes you’ve got to listen with your eyes,” A Student Perspective

By Baylor Law Student, James Fryer


A recent class focused on the importance of active listening. One of our students, James Fryer, wrote about a transformative experience he had when his boss used active listening skills with him. We enjoyed reading it and thought you might too. – LWT & SLR


What do you mean, Mike?

My final year at the University of Oregon was one of my best years. I had finished my graduation requirements the spring before, so I was rounding out my undergraduate experience with a light-and-easy class schedule and a job as a Resident Assistant to pay for housing.

Oh, did I mention I had a girlfriend? I did, at least until one Friday night when she broke up with me. To salt the wound, I was also “on duty,” so I had to put on my happy face and patrol the residence hall. Continuing my  bad luck, that night saw a half-dozen conduct violations, including a resident who decided to toss every toilet paper roll in the building in the dumpster as a zany prank. It was so late that it was early before I finished writing the required reports and fell asleep.

I awoke to a note my boss, Mike, slid under my door which said that I had not put enough effort into my reports from the night before and asked me to do a rewrite. I saw RED. He clearly didn’t have a clue how hard I had worked! After all, even though I had been dumped, I spent hours keeping the residents from breaking things when all I really wanted to do was feel sorry for myself! And he had the audacity to put a note under my door! He didn’t even have the nerve to talk to me about it!

Instead of meekly rewriting last night’s reports, I went to Mike’s office to have the conversation he was so obviously keen to avoid. His door was open, so I walked in brandishing the note.

“What do you want me to do with this?” I started.

Mike looked up, closed his laptop lid and didn’t respond. He didn’t respond long enough that I tried again.

“I wrote those reports last night and they are fine. You got the story; why do I have to rewrite something I already did?”

“What happened?” he responded.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, MIKE!” I replied, too loud.

“What happened, James?” he repeated, “something did….so SIT.” It wasn’t an offer; it was a command.

I sat. The pressure in my chest released slightly despite my efforts to stay mad.

“Give me the note,” he said.

When I handed it over to him, he held it over the recycling bin and let it drop.

“So,” he said, “What happened…?”

I broke and spent the next half-hour explaining to him everything else I had carried into his office that morning, along with the now-trashed note.

“Probably start there next time, eh?” Mike said once I was done. “But, I need you to rewrite those reports. Your writing was sloppy and rushed. I can’t use it. As for why I wrote the note?  You had a late night and I thought you should be sleeping. That’s why I wrote you a note and didn’t knock on your door.”

I left Mike’s office in a haze. But I knew something extraordinary had happened. When I asked Mike about our conversation the next week, he said:

“You told me everything before you said anything, James.” He continued, “your face was red, your eyes wide, and you didn’t knock before you raised your voice at me… there was no way you were in my office about a note or rewriting a report. Sometimes,” he finished “you’ve got to listen with your eyes.”

Since that day, I have tried listening with my eyes. What a person says is so much more than words they choose. By actively and attentively listening with more than his ears, Mike understood my Saturday morning trip to his office had little to do with his note.

Active listening is a critical skill to develop because communication is inherently imperfect. No person can make themselves completely known to another; something is always lost between thoughts and words. However, by giving a person your full attention and listening with all your senses, you can be like Mike and understand a bit more than what is said.

I emailed Mike the rewritten reports that afternoon.

Leadership

Student Perspectives on Leadership Development

 Ali Moser (JD ‘19) 

Below, Ali Moser (JD ‘19) and a Baylor Law Leadership Fellow, offers her thoughts on the Leadership class and her experience at Baylor Law.

Benefits of the Leadership Class         

The Leadership Development Program at Baylor Law School helped me gain an extra set of skills to take into my future career. I learned much from the leadership class, but I gained even more from the experiences I had when actually serving as a leader during my time at Baylor Law.

I was fortunate to have two very formative leadership experiences outside of the LEAD class. First, serving as Executive President of the Student Bar Association my 3L year was not an opportunity that I expected to have during law school. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the student body. SBA is the umbrella to every other student organization on campus.  As SBA President I thoroughly enjoyed working with so many ambitious fellow students. I learned a lot about communicating with different groups of people and how to meet the needs of students during a challenging and demanding three years of their lives.

(L-R) Ali Moser; Dean Leah Teague; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, Nathan Hecht; Dean Brad Toben, Dean Stephen Rispoli

My second opportunity to put the skills into practice was when I served as the 2018 Conference Chair for LEAD Counsel’s Making A Difference Conference. As chair, I was challenged as the many moving pieces had to all come together, but it taught me a lot. The class helped me develop skills that I put into practice. I’m thankful for both of my experiences with SBA and LEAD Counsel and I know that lessons learned as part of the Leadership Development Program will serve me well in my career.

The Importance of Relationship Building

In the Leadership Class, there were many opportunities to learn about our own strengths and weaknesses, as well as our peers and other leaders. This allowed friendships to develop with the other students in the class, which does not always happen in law school classes. However, that was an integral part of the Leadership Class, which was surprising to me. I learned about my leadership style and the leadership style of others. It taught me where I was strong, and exposed places where I could improve. This created a unique classroom environment with the fellow classmates, and I hope to cross paths with many of them in my legal career.

Advice to all Law Students: Learn Leadership Styles

I offer this advice to all law students – I encouraged you to discover what your leadership style is whether that is through a class, reading a book, or watching a podcast. It is incredibly value to know before stepping into a legal career. As you learn more about leadership styles, you become more aware of the strong parts of your personality so you can capitalize on those aspects; but also learn where you can improve. As you become familiar with many of the leadership styles, you will be able to recognize different styles which will enable you to work well with others in your future career.

Ali Mosser, JD ’19

Ali Moser graduated from Baylor Law in May of 2019 having earned the distinction as a Leadership Fellow. During her time at Baylor she was involved in various student organizations including Student Bar Association, Inn of Court, LEAD Counsel, Federalist Society, Intramurals. She also competed in Moot Court competitions, volunteered her time as a McLennan County Court Appointed Special Advocate. Ali’s leadership and devotion to Baylor Law School encouraged many students to follow in her footsteps and become not only a law student who goes through the motions, but a leader who impacts lives. After graduation she joined the litigation section of Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo & Kyle, P.C.