Don’t Overlook the “Basics,” Whether You’re A Rookie or a Seasoned Pro

This post is also available at my LinkedIn page.

As soon as I walked out of the NRG Center in Houston after the last portion of my July ’13 bar exam, those in the immediate vicinity might have heard a “whoosh” noise – that was the sound of my immediately ejecting 95% of bar study material out from my head, presumably never to be needed again. It’s interesting to look back in hindsight at what I was good at, bad at, and laugh at tested material I never anticipated seeing in practice. Case in point, I remember doing my one day of bar review on something called “oil and gas law;” having gone to law school in New York, this topic was not regularly debated over water cooler discussion in the law review office (full disclosure, I am pretty sure I did not bomb by oil and gas law essay on the exam – I think?). As an alternative example, Civil Procedure was anathema to me – no matter how hard I tried, its myriad rules just did not want to stick in my mind. Obviously the basics I still remember, but the nuances and subtleties might as well have been in Swahili in my review materials. On the whole, though, I think I retained most of the broad frameworks surrounding these areas of law, which has helped me at different times subsequently.

My efforts to keep myself solid on “legal basics” in areas I don’t really deal with regularly came in handy last week, though, and reminded me of the value of having the fundamentals in your craft down even if they don’t necessarily apply to your specialty. In reviewing some courthouse records to solidify title for a particular assignment in Upton County, I saw that the materials including a case commenced about a decade ago yet still unresolved – this case was a lease royalty language dispute, and of course the file was pretty huge. Anticipating myriad exhibits and other explanatory materials, I instead found the file to be 95% pleadings and procedural motions – the “Civ Pro” part of my brain awoke and cried out, as if millions of my brain cells cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. There were impleader and intervention motions galore, which I was able to deftly navigate, more or less; my advantage in having some clue about these Civ Pro filings worked and what they meant allowed me to dispatch with the case certainly much faster than a regular title abstractor would have been able to.

The above story is not really important, but it does give a bit of color to my overall point that, whether you are starting out or rather experienced in a certain field, having the knowledge and ability to handle the tasks/info that falls into the “basics” category will distinguish you as someone who can get the job done. For the rookie, having the basics down will demonstrate a desire to improve professionally and commit to providing good work-product; for the vet, having the basics down demonstrates a lack of complacency and a desire to make sure his or her foundation is solid enough to support the added weight and height of greater skills and development. It seems simple, and it is – but imagine a limo driver who didn’t know the local layout of streets, a carpenter who didn’t know what types of wood are better for certain work, or a quarterback who didn’t understand the core tenets of his coach’s offense. All of the “extras” that you bring to the party don’t mean nearly as much if it’s without a sound foundation consisting of the basics.

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