Applying TED Talks to Law Practice

I’ve always been a fan of self-help books, even though sometimes they get a bad rap. However, if you’re not looking outside yourself for improvement and inspiration, you’ve significantly hindered your own growth.

I’ve been on a TED talk kick recently, usually watching a few a week. There are a ton of them so if this at all piques your interest, there’s a good chance once exists that’s in your wheelhouse. I’m going to give a summary of three of them I’ve really enjoyed, and then why I think it’s applicable to the practice of law. In no particular order, here they are:

Mark Rober: The Super Mario Effect – Tricking Your Brain into Learning More

Mark Rober

Summary: Mark Rober is a national treasure. In a world of infinite and often mindless social media, Mark is a beacon of fun science and engaging lessons. This talk is no different; he describes how you can view Super Mario Bros. as a way to change your paradigm about how you view failure.

Law Firm Application: One cultural shift we consciously made in the last year or so was to embrace negative case outcomes along with positives. We’ve always been good about praise in the firm, but negative feedback was something we shied away from. As a result, when it was handed out, people took it very personal and it killed effective communication.

When you accept that no person or case is perfect but the pursuit of perfection is a noble cause, the inevitable things that went wrong become a force for improvement. “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford

Sam Harris: Can we build AI without losing control over it?


Summary: Sam talks about how we’re currently grappling with what we believe AI is and should be. He has a somewhat scary view that AI won’t attack us like Terminator; rather, they will treat us like we treat ants – mostly insignificant but happy to stomp us out if needed.

Law Firm Application: The scariest thing about this talk is it was given 6 years ago, yet it rings very true to current events. For example, ChatGPT is a hot topic right now; it was even brought up in our attorney listserve as a Microsoft-backed AI can now score in the 90th percentile on bar exams. Will AI replace jobs? As Elon Musk said, “ChatGPT is scary good. We are not far from dangerously strong AI.”

This video by John Oliver is much more recent than Sam’s and worth a watch (language warning). Notable for us, it shows a CBS Sunday Morning clip where Erik Brynjolfsson states lawyers are at the top of the list of those who could be replaced, but with the caveat of “it’s not going to be AI replacing lawyers, it’s going to be lawyers working with AI replacing lawyers who don’t work with AI.”

Any law firm who isn’t considering AI and technology as a whole in regards to the future of their business is at risk of being left behind. Don’t get comfortable; use technology to its max efficiency and be ready to change and learn as needed.

Marilyn York: What Representing Men in Divorce Taught Me About Fatherhood

Marilyn York

Summary: This funny and sometimes irreverent talk touches on a subject that unfortunately affects many families – divorce. Marilyn’s approach is that of a well-seasoned attorney who has seen the negative affects of fatherless homes, and how certain laws need to be changed and updated. It challenges the “deadbeat dad” stereotype.

Law Firm Application: Maybe I’m stretching this a bit to fit a square peg in a round hole, but this comparison is about challenging assumptions and figuring out how (and why) they need to be addressed. This week, I took a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) class on Implicit Bias and Cultural Competency. There are several tests you can and should explore online, including this one posted by the American Bar Association.

Filters in our daily lives help us function, but they often push you to look past obvious areas of improvement. We need to be hyper aware of how we communicate with clients, providers, and other legal professionals. The hilarious Tina Fey spoke about challenging the “boys club” of SNL. She became the show’s first female head writer in 1999, and hearing her speak about those early challenges is eye opening. FWI Legal has employed people from a range of backgrounds and experiences, but we shouldn’t rest on our laurels.

Let’s all strive to challenge assumptions held about parenthood and the workplace to make things better.

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