Paying Attention

November 1, 2016 § 8 Comments

Has this ever happened to you? You have arrived at the head of the line at Wendy’s (or your customary fast-food joint):

You: I would like a small number one combo to go; hold the cheese and onions.

Wendy: Number one combo. Here or to go?

You: To go. And did you get the no cheese and onions?

Wendy: Number one combo. Large or small?

You: Uh, small. And no cheese and onions, right?

Wendy: You want no cheese and onions?

You: Right. No cheese and onions.

Wendy: Number one combo. No cheese and onions. Small. Here or to go?

[If you weren’t paying close attention, you might want to read through that again slowly]

When you get to your vehicle, odds are 3-1 that there is either cheese or onions, or both, on your burger. Happens all the time.

Not trying to pick on Wendy’s. Or fast-food joints in general. Or the people who work there. It’s just a cultural thing nowadays that people are used to getting their information in small, rapid snippets. They are accustomed to doing three or four things all at once, not doing any of them particularly accurately. They simply are not used at all to pausing to gather enough information and apply a cognitive process to it. That takes too much time and effort.

And our modern apparatuses facilitate this. I have sat at a table in a nice restaurant and observed all four people at a neighboring table studying their smart phones as if they were sacred idols. No conversation. No interaction. When the waiter asks if they are ready to order the scramble is on to pick something off the menu so they can get back to their devices. At home, how many of us spend our evenings staring at the tv screen, or dabbling on a laptop or tablet while the tv is going, or doing all of that and talking on the phone — all while someone else sits across the room doing the same? None of this is paying attention, by the way; it’s scattering attention to render it completely ineffective.

This lack of attention thing seeps into your practice via your clients. You get something like this from your clients all the time: “You said the judge would definitely find my ex in contempt for not allowing me visitation” when you know good and well you never said any such thing. People don’t take time to hear and process.

Oh, and you and your office staff are not immune. You proofread discovery while answering email while returning phone calls and giving directions to office staff. You can’t pay attention to one thing when your attention is divided four ways.

It seems to work so well in everyday life, though. People seem to survive and even thrive while juggling three different devices and information sources.

But what works in pop culture and even in day-to-day business does not necessarily work well at all in the law.

Not paying attention is a luxury in which no one in the law or the judiciary can afford to indulge. Too much is at stake. The law requires precision in language, in thought, and in writing. Poorly worded questioning will allow a slick witness to slither away from the truth, or, worse, will deprive you of a crucial point in the record for appeal. Your unthoughtful arguments will be picked apart by counsel opposite and the court. A sloppily drafted contract or PSA will wind your client back in court nine times out of ten.

Lawyers who have been here in the Far East of Mississippi can confirm that I don’t do telephone conferences except in the most extreme situations. That’s because if you are sitting in my court room or in my office I can observe whether you are paying attention and whether I am making contact with gray matter. Over the phone, I don’t know that; I don’t know that you aren’t practicing your putting, or texting, or working crossword puzzles, or playing Minecraft while I am instructing how I want the order drawn.

Paying attention may be our most essential survival skill. A wildebeest that does not pay attention, for example, gets to enjoy being a lion’s dinner. It certainly applies in the law. Pay attention: the life you save may be your own.

§ 8 Responses to Paying Attention

  • Judge Doleac says:

    Learned Chancellor Primeaux –

    An excellent reminder for us all

    …..and especially those of us who

    have no interest in being multi-taskers.

    Tend to the matter at hand….amen!

    R Doleac


  • Kathryn White says:

    If you have time to read this I thought it was interesting. It sort of reminds me of conversations we have at our office about people not paying attention to detail.

    Kathryn L. White


    100 W. Gallatin Street

    Hazlehurst, Mississippi 39083

    Telephone: (601) 894-2202

    Facsimile: (601) 894-5033

    The information transmitted in this e-mail is intended only for the addressee and may contain confidential material that may be protected by the attorney-client and/or attorney work product privilege. Any review, retransmission, dissemination or other use of, or taking of an action in reliance upon, this information by persons or entities other than the intended recipient is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message and are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender at (601) 894-2202 and delete the material immediately, without retaining a copy.

  • Bentley Conner says:

    With respects…..

    You can’t live in a third world country any more. More people in the world have cell phones than have toothbrushes. Facebook (if it were a country) is the largest country in the world. Google is not the biggest search engine. There are two search engines in China that are bigger than Google. Almost 1,800 articles are uploaded to WikiPedia every hour. Only 11% of them are in English. There are more graduate students from India than college students from the U.S. Remember the gizmo on the Jetsons that would let you see the person you were talking to? Kids today think that happened in the past. My grandchildren will never remember a time when you couldn’t see the person you are talking to. And a dial tone would freak them out—-they’ve never heard one.

    A wise former Pastor told me that people don’t come to you for answers. The come to you to be understood. Until they think you understand them, they will never hear what you tell them. We should listen to understand.

    Dr. Richard Covey says that most of us don’t really listen. We just use that time as an interlude to think up what we’re going to say next. We should listen to understand.

    Then we should talk to be understood

  • D.L. Graves says:

    Agreed with the premise, take exception to people in service positions. This is a training issue. In a place like Mississippi, where the economy is bad and well paying job for unskilled labor is virtually nonexistent, those doing the hiring have a pretty good field to choose from. When you are a kid’s first job you have a moral duty to train him or her on how to do their job and how to do it well. You are paying them slave wages, take the time to at least give them some tools to build with.

    • Larry says:

      As I said, “Not trying to pick on Wendy’s. Or fast-food joints in general. Or the people who work there.” Your point is well taken, but it’s beside the point of my post.

  • kurt brace says:

    the Unabomber warned us of this decades ago. technology will destroy us. There is hope, however, you can live in the past. move to a third world country.

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