Learning Courage in Law School
By Daniel June
The root virtue has long been regarded as courage. As it’s name suggests, courage comes from the core, from the heart of a man or woman; it was believed by the Greeks to be the basis of all other virtues. As a JD, courage is helpful in many ways. Being bold enough to confront a judge, colleague, or client means having the mental resources to face their anger. Above all you have to have the courage to be wrong. If you knew you were right, it would be simple, there would be no doubt. But certainty belongs to zealots: reasonable people have reasonable doubts, and there is always a degree of uncertainty in all our decisions. Courage is not the opposite of fear, it is a form of fear, fear worked up into resolve. The difference between the courageous and the coward is that the courageous does what he thinks is right, and the coward does not.
Developing this sense of valiancy means facing your fears. Nobody wants to face them, they are the things we least like to face. But if one is to persuade a court or speak in a conference or address imposing persons in places of power, one must be willing to be wrong, to dare to be right.
As Aristotle taught, virtues are habits. Though we are born with temperaments making some people shy, others bold, habits reinforce our instincts, or correct them. Second-nature is best nature. You can develop a sense of courage by forcing yourself to do things that scare you.
This is why it is important to participate as much as you can in class, and if its appropriate, ask questions or answer them, volunteer. If you want to study with others, lead the group, take control. Introduce yourself to the people who interest you; they will find you interesting too. Everybody respects confidence, and the trick of it is to keep at it until it is natural.
After all, success in any career, in life itself, is not in your education, in what you know, but in your heart, your attitude, what you feel. Law School is the perfect atmosphere to develop that attitude and those virtues, for as the psychologist William James said, just as we develop language in the first ten years, and our personality in our adolescence, so we develop our career sense in our twenties and early thirties. How you act now will determine how you can act tomorrow.