"Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is." This famous saying by Wayne Gretzky, “the greatest player of all time” according to The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League, nicely sums up the skill of anticipation. The ability to predict where things are going is very important not only for ice hockey players, but for lawyers as well. Think of all the time lawyers spend anticipating the outcomes of the cases, the moves by the opposing party, witnesses’ responses, negotiating tactics, and everything that can go wrong. But what is anticipation? Can we learn to anticipate better? It certainly seems that experience has a lot to do with this ability. Anticipation appears to be a complex skill, so I’ve decided to break it down to some more basic components. Perhaps, if we work on those, we can get better at anticipation. Here is my list:
- Asking the right questions. When we anticipate something, aren’t we looking for an answer to some important question or problem that is on our mind? If that’s the case, the practice of asking questions about future events should help us to get better at predicting the outcomes of those events. Next time, before you read a case for your class, ask yourself some questions about it. What do you think it is going to be about? Was there anything in the last case you read that was left unanswered? Why is it in the textbook? What is it going to add to the legal doctrine you are studying? When you try to answer those questions, look at the material you have covered so far, consult the table of contents and the syllabus for your class. Get a bird’s view of the task, and you may see better what is to come. After you read the case, try to predict the questions your professor is going to ask in class.
- Recognizing patterns. Patterns are predictable. If you are good at recognizing patterns, you are good at anticipation. Look for recurrent behaviors. If you don’t review your notes or outline, you don’t do well on the test – that’s a pattern.
- Prioritizing. We are constantly bombareded with all sorts of information. When we make a decision about something that may occur in the future, we need to determine what to take into consideration and what to ignore. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink is about learning what’s important and making snap judgments based on “thin slices” of information. When you enter a law firm’s office, what can you tell about its culture? What clues do you use to make that determination?
- Mindfulness. In order to anticipate, you need to be aware of what is going on around you. You want to notice things, words, behaviors. Sometimes, anticipation is about paying enough attention to the present.
- Empathy. I think there is a connection between empathy and the ability to anticipate. If you can share in someone’s feelings and emotions, you can understand that person better, and as a result, you are better at predicting behavior.
Is there anything else I should add to the list? Let me know.