The time management conversation prompted some interesting reflections from two of my students who did not turn in their reflection journals on time. In response to my email letting them know that the journals were late, both noted the irony that they had missed a deadline to write a reflection journal on time management. Both students gave permission to share their responses.
One student noted that he had planned on completing it on Friday (when it was due), but had a surprise visit from an out of town guest he had not seen in a couple of years and in the midst of that activity forgot to finish the reflection journal. He further noted (with great candor) that he tends to put assignments for his other classes in his calendar because he views those classes as being more important than the mentor class (which only meets four times per semester and is graded on a pass/fail basis). In my reply, I noted that what happened really demonstrates the importance of putting everything in the calendar. “You wouldn’t create a tickler file for just your five most important clients and deal with your less important clients ‘on the fly.’ That is a recipe for disaster and malpractice claims. Recognizing that other classes/papers loom larger doesn’t mean that mentor assignments don’t belong on your calendar. (Indeed, one could argue that the least important things are the most important to put on your calendar because you are less likely to remember them generally.)”
One had planned on getting the reflection journal done either on Thursday or Friday, but ended up getting sick and simply did not check his calendar to see whether any tasks needed to be completed on those two days. This prompted me to note in my response “that even when you aren’t feeling well, you need to at least check your calendar to see if there is anything due for which you need to just sit down and get it done.” In discussing this situation briefly with someone else, she noted that another alternative is to check your calendar and see if you can offload work that has to get done to a colleague who might be able to cover it for you (something that obviously would not be helpful with respect to the reflection journal, but could be helpful in practice).
This student also noted a point we had discussed in class — that “dropping the ball” as a student frequently results in consequences only to the student who drops the ball, but that poor time management in practice imposes external costs on others, either the client (for whom the work product may not meet your normal standards of excellence) or a lawyer’s family who may miss out on having time with the lawyer who has to stay at work to finish projects that weren’t scheduled appropriately. The student said: “As I have grown older and more experienced, I’ve become much more aware of how my missteps affect other people. When I was young, dumb and arrogant, I was very wrapped up in myself, and not that worried about others, so flying by the seat of my pants suited me just fine. But now, I’m really disappointed when I create more work, or inconvenience others through my mistakes or disorganization. You mentioned several times in class that when you are married and have a family, your poor time management affects your spouse and children - I believe even if you are single, your poor time managment affects others…just as my missed deadline this past week is going to cause you to review mentor journals at a time you didn’t intend. I apologize and will not let it happen again.”
These are simple but powerful lessons and bring home one of the values of the mentor externship program. Not only do we introduce students to a variety of essential skills for successful lawyers, but we also frequently discover some true teachable moments in the midst of our dialogue.