Sharpening the Saw

Many years ago as a young professional, prior to law school, I was assigned the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey. A leadership program I was enrolled in required its reading and prompted refection and discussion on the book’s principles among my fellow participants.

Although reductive and self-promoting, Covey’s book was a helpful entry point for me into certain fundamental approaches to professional success.  The one “habit” I still have instant recall of is Sharpening the Saw.

Sharpening the Saw, as I remember it, was the habit of taking a break from work to make sure the tools one needs to do said work are in good working order. In short, it means feeding the brain and body with restoration to keep it in good working order.

My students are buzzing around me these days sawing at a frenetic pace as they prepare for final exams, write papers, and in my clinic complete their clients’ casework. I hope the students I have worked with this year have learned a little something from me about sharpening their saws.

In both my clinical and my lecture courses I include outside material and my own commentary about the need for lawyers to keep our brains and bodies in good working order. Our professional responsibility obligations demand it, in my opinion.

Last week I was away from school, and my clinic for all five “business” days–although one of them was a national holiday, and the days prior to and after it were days we had no classes.  Still, I was nervous about leaving town although circumstances in my personal life necessitated it.  At some point in the week prior to the trip I made a very conscious decision to be unavailable, except by cell phone for true emergencies. I added an e-mail autoreply. I informed my director and my staff.  I did not check e-mail.  There were no emergencies.

And this week, my saw feels razor-sharp.  My performance and energy levels are at peak.  My patience is uncharacteristically not thin.  I can close my jaw.  My students survived last week, as did my clients and staff.  I’ll be adding to my syllabi for this semester some space for this anecdote, and connecting it to existing material from experts on teaching resilience and balance in legal education.  Covey may be off-trend, but his point is well taken.

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