Staff Attorney, Missouri Department of Social Services
Originally published in the June 2021 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. Download PDF.
The pursuit of intellectual well-being involves the engagement of continuous learning, seeking creative or intellectually challenging activities that foster ongoing development, and monitoring cognitive wellness.
When I think of continuous learning, I think of learning that goes beyond the classroom or traditional formal education. The brain is our body's most powerful "muscle," and using it in ways that go beyond how we would normally use it allows the brain to go through a form of cross-training. For those of you that are familiar with athletic training, you know that using the same muscles in the same way over and over again can cause your muscles to get caught in a rut and to plateau in their development. By switching up the manner in which your muscles are exercised (for example, by doing yoga instead of running), your muscles can break through their boundaries and reach new levels.
For intellectual cross-training, I believe this can be achieved by engaging in an intellectually challenging hobby that uses your brain in a way that might not be used through the practice of law. For me, I have obtained this cross-training by being a poker player. The study of poker involves game theory, the study of people, mathematics, analysis of the moves and countermoves of your opponents, the ability to think a move ahead in the game, and so on. It has been said that Texas Hold 'Em poker takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. I learned this game in 2003 and have been playing seriously since 2015. Eighteen years later, I am still learning ways that I can improve as a player.
The skills that I have learned as a poker player have been invaluable to me as an attorney. The quick thinking that is required at the poker table has great translation to the courtroom, when you often have to make adjustments on the fly to decisions by the judge or unexpected responses from witnesses. This is incredibly useful on cross-examination when you may have to pivot your approach on the fly (not unlike a surprise card that hits the table that forces you to reevaluate your entire strategy for the hand in that moment).
The social skills in talking and interacting with people from all walks of life at the poker table has helped me in client interviews and simple relatability with others who may have a drastically different background than me.
I am not saying that every attorney should pick up a deck of cards and learn how to play poker to become a better attorney. What I am saying is that an intellectually challenging hobby can be something that can provide you with great benefits as an attorney. It also will give you an outlet to strengthen your brain in new and exciting ways.
You could learn how to write a book (on a subject other than law), play the guitar, become a Sudoku master, whatever fits you. Just find a way to strengthen your mind in a different way than reading legal opinions and writing briefs.
Your brain will thank you (and your boss might, too).