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The first summer after I graduated from law school, I was a summer clerk in the Justice Department in Washington, DC. I was young, overly confident, and thought very highly of myself. I figured that because of my academic success—and the fact that I was the only first-year law student hired into this particular Justice Department program—I must be special and I knew everything I was doing.

The #1 Weakness That Holds Attorneys Back in Their Careers and Lives

However, after I turned in my first assignment, a brilliant, young, detail-oriented Yale Law School graduate in my division sat down with me and practically went line by line through what I had written. He told me not only what needed to be improved, but what I had done wrong. He pointed out wordiness, improper citation formats, formatting errors, areas where I needed more support for my points, and more. He also understood the subject matter that I was writing about so well that he provided numerous insights I had not only missed, but probably would have never been able to come up with on my own. I hated it. My response to this first dressing down was mumbling something about it being only "a draft" and that I was already aware of all of the errors, inconsistencies, and more.

This was a massive shock to my confidence, and I did not enjoy it at all. My feeling was that it was an assault on my ego and undermined my view of myself.
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

Throughout the summer, I had more and more meetings like this with a variety of other attorneys. Each time I did an assignment and had the work torn up, I got a little bit better. I started to be more thorough, review my work more carefully, and completely think through every issue. I realized there was a lot of depth to the work I was doing, and I eventually understood that I needed to improve. I started to look forward to the criticism of my work and viewed it as a game—my job was to produce work so good that no one would be able to poke holes in it.