Webster defines preparation as “the action or process of making something ready for use or service or of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty.” They are layers of preparation. To help explain, let’s use the layers of the human skin as a guide.
Epidermis. The skin’s surface. Merely examining the surface of a subject is considered shallow, superficial. But an examination of the surface of an idea or subject is always a good starting point. There’s nothing wrong with a close prolonged surface evaluation. It’s just not enough. A superficial examination can at times bring forth something more. Perhaps the best way is to pause, look carefully, pause again, look, though now in a slightly different way. What’s here? Why are we seeing this? What best explains this?
Dermis. The skin’s undersurface, containing connective tissue, hair follicles, an area not visible when viewed externally. The only way to see this area is to search beneath the surface. Part of any reasonably thorough investigation. But no amount of surface evaluation is ever going to reveal this. What ways exist that enable us to reach this level? How can we move past the first layer?
Hypodermis. The skin’s lowermost layer, containing the deeper connective tissue. Probably, the most neglected area because it’s the most difficult to reach, but also the most vital, decisive. This is where thought and insight combine with late–night preparation and investigation.
Next Level Preparation. Thorough preparation implicates all three. We know this, but too often we stop at the level of the epidermis, deceiving ourselves that we’ve mastered the subject. No, we only know that which we can easily reach. After many hours, a realization––we’ve just started. (A well–prepared case slowly develops, from ideational to physical, from embryo to adult––both a natural and unnatural process…)
“Young men [and women] should look this thing squarely in the face and appreciate the obstacles they have to surmount, for of all the professions, none is more exacting––I know not one that is as exacting––for the law has been called a jealous mistress, and she will not tolerate devotion to her severed or parted for any other object.”
At times, the young and inexperienced take solace in the soothing illusion of the half–finished:
“I couldn’t find a case on point.”Not only is there a case on point. There are usually multiplecases on point. You just haven’t searched long enough. Case law research, tedious and time–consuming, can take days or weeks, squeezing every drop of water from the sponge. Very often, the best cases originate from adjacent, not overlapping, areas of the law.
“There is no profession to–day whose expanse of knowledge is as wide as the lawyer’s. There is no profession that has to cover so much ground, because in all other professions there is a special and specific subject pursued, but to the lawyer all knowledge is common.”
“I’m ready to take the deposition.”Actually, you’re not. You haven’t even begun to prepare. Preparation for a single deposition can take days, sometimes weeks. The first task is acquiring the information. The second task is reading and summarizing the information you’ve acquired. But then the hard work begins. Making sense of things, putting things in context, shaping what can best be termed an “oppositional chronology”––your own take on reality, and why the facts fit, and support, your theory of the case.
“There is not a scrap of knowledge that may be picked up by the wayside that will not turn out useful some time or other. The law student should never neglect the opportunity to acquire knowledge upon all points.”
“There’s nothing more to be done.”There’s usually another step, or series of steps, that can be taken. Visualization of an idea, converting an idea to a physical form, can help. So too can assuming the point of view of your adversary, and parsing out the various ways your case can be attacked, made vulnerable. Ask: what more can be done to strengthen this, to make this clear? What will happen if? Many times you will stumble upon a new idea peripherally related to the subject at hand.
“For instance, the inventor with his genius may be utterly incapable of explaining the mechanism of his invention, and a lawyer must do it for him. The dramatist who may write the most successful drama of the day would be utterly unable to defend his copyright, and a lawyer must do it for him. The lawyer must be conversant with the drama, the comedy and the tragedies of life.”
Result–oriented preparation can perhaps lessen effectiveness––we prepare for only as long as we believe we should. But what would happen if we placed no limit? Preparation without the yardstick of measurement against a specific goal. Move past the practice of limiting preparation to meet a predetermined endpoint. Preparation as an end in itself, searching beyond what’s reasonable or proportionate. Then you will see preparation take on a new cast of light––and probably will be able to see things with a degree of clarity not previously experienced.
All quotations from: John W. Goff, The Lawyer, Yale Law Journal, Vol 22, No. 6, Pgs. 433-452, (April 1913).