A Dog's Lesson

My dog BearBear passed away this week, much too young at 6 years and 4 months. But in those 6 years she hiked and ran in the mountains almost every day, traveled with me on many work trips, and was surrounded by, and gave in return, much joy. She also taught me a lesson I want to share.

BearBear was a Chow Chow, and Chow Chow’s make great office work companions (I got BearBear soon after I founded this firm). They generally stick to themselves and BearBear was almost always found on the porch gazing up at the mountains during the day. I could get lost in work and she would be on that porch for hours on end and both of us were content. BearBear was incredibly shy around strangers; essentially, she didn’t like to be messed with. She had a routine that involved hiking and running with me well before the sun came up and then avoiding most social activities to be at peace with her thoughts while surveying the great landscape of the Colorado Mountains.

In return for this magnificent solitude, BearBear offered what, for her, was the sincerest of exchanges. As a puppy she was incredibly attentive to learning what the dislikes of others were – and never ever violated them. The picture of her at the top of this blog is exactly of her doing that -observing so to learn. In other words, if BearBear’s gift for contentment was seen as a negotiation (obviously I never thought of it in those terms), her end of the bargain was to learn and pay attention to our needs. In fact, she did all of this *first* before she even showed her shy side.

In 1936 Dale Carnegie wrote, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” a seminal self-help and sales book that I have mentioned to hundreds of prospective and current law students in the context of a lost art. That art is essentially to get what we want in life, we must forget our own perspective and understand the wants of others. This comes straight from the book. In today’s legal word, and similarly in law admissions, what I (and I believe many of my colleagues in admissions) have seen over the last 20 years is a devolution of the art of understanding what others want. So many people now think that they have to boldly make a case. Instincts in sales and admissions are greatly skewed in this direction and it hurts law school applicants and lawyers alike (one of the greatest realizations that young lawyers out of law school soon face is that legal practice is sales – you need clients or you don’t have a career).

Please know this: you rarely have to make a case in life as the first part of anything. Rather, you need to listen to what others are looking for. Most of our firm’s work involves admissions and this is one of the most classic of admissions faux paus. If you visit a law school, you can literally ask them what they look for in an application and give them just that. When you do, your odds of being denied are diminished. But few do this. Rather, applicants gear up to pitch themselves, something admissions officers have seen thousands of times in their careers and that doesn’t resonate with them or elevate an applicant.

There isn’t a grand ending to this blog. I wanted to honor what I learned from my dog in a way that could be of help to others. If nothing else, I would encourage you to read the book I referenced. Become genuinely interested in other people (again straight from the book). It will take you so far in life (the best person I know at this is the M&A co-chair of Gibson Dunn). Amazingly, the more you observe the wants in others, the more you will get in return. That's an incredible lesson my dog started teaching me six years ago, and did every day since.