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So You Want To Be An International/China Lawyer, Part V. Know The Fromm Six.

Posted in Good People, Recommended Reading

I wrote this post in April of last year and while going through draft posts just realized that I failed to post it back then, and so I’ve updated it and posting it now.

I get at least twenty emails every week from law students/young lawyers expressing interest in becoming an international lawyer (or a China lawyer) and asking essentially what courses they should take to achieve that goal. My response is always something like the following:

First, do what it takes to become an excellent lawyer, then focus on the international side. In the meantime though, get fluent in a language that matters to you and make yourself international by traveling and by reading.

In other words, get educated, get smart, and get international. Not terribly helpful, I know, but true.

Last April I read an article that really resonated for me. The article was written by William Henderson, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law and one of the most knowledgeable people alive on the legal profession. The article is entitled, The Fromm Six, and it sets out a “competency model for law students called the Fromm Six.

The article starts out with the following background:

One of the greatest people in legal education that you have never heard of is a man named Leonard Fromm.   Fromm served as Dean of Students at Indiana University Maurer School of Law from 1982 to 2012.  On February 2, 2013, Dean Fromm passed away after a relatively short battle with cancer.

I want to discuss an innovation that Dean Fromm contributed to legal education—a contribution that, I predict, will only grow over time.  This innovation is a competency model for law students called the Fromm Six. But first, let me supply the essential background.

After several years in counseling and adult education, Dean Fromm joined the law school in 1982 to preside over matters of student affairs.  Over the course of three decades he quietly became the heart and soul of the Maurer School of Law.  Dean Fromm was typically the first person that new students met during orientation—the law school administrator who completed character and fitness applications for state bar authorities and the voice that called out their names at commencement (with an amazing, booming tenor).   During the three years in between, Dean Fromm counseled students through virtually every human problem imaginable.  His most difficult work was done in his office with his door closed and all his electronic devices turned off.  It was private work that was not likely to produce much fanfare.

*   *   *   *

One of the cumulative benefits of Dean Fromm’s job was the ability to track the full arc of lawyers’ careers, from the tentative awkwardness of the 1L year, to involvement in the school’s extracurricular events and social scene, to coping strategies for students not at the top of their class, and the myriad, unexpected turns in our graduates’ professional careers. During his tenure he interacted with nearly 6,000 students and stayed in contact with a staggering number of them after graduation. Invariably, he saw the connection between law school and a student’s subsequent success and happiness later in life (noting, in his wise way, that professional success and happiness are not necessarily the same thing).

In 2008, I started collaborating with Len on a project to construct a law school competency model.  Our first iteration was a list of 23 success factors  which we constructed with the help of industrial & organizational (IO) psychologists.  Although valid as a matter of social science, the list was too long and complex to gain traction with students.  In 2010, the faculty who taught Indiana Law’s 1L Legal Professions class got together and reduced the list of competencies to 15.  Once again, we found it was too long and complex to execute in the classroom.

During the summer of 2011, as we were debriefing the challenges of another year in our competency-based 1L Legal Professions course, Dean Fromm said, “I have an idea.” A short time later, he circulated a list of six competencies that were appropriate to 1Ls and foundational to their future growth as professionals.  Finally (or At last), we now had a working tool!  Moreover, none of the professors teaching the Legal Professions course, including me, wanted to revise a single word—a veritable miracle in legal academia.

And thus the Fromm Six was born. This is that six:

Self-Awareness. Having a highly developed sense of self. Being self-aware means knowing your values, goals, likes, dislikes, needs, drives, strengths and weaknesses, and their effect on your behavior. Possessing this competence means knowing accurately which emotions you are feeling and how to manage them toward effective performance and a healthy balance in your life. If self-aware, you also will have a sense of perspective about yourself, seeking and learning from feedback and constructive criticism from others.

Active listening. The ability to fully comprehend information presented by others through careful monitoring of words spoken, voice inflections, para-linguistic statements, and non-verbal cues. Although that seems obvious, the number of lawyers and law students who are poor listeners suggests the need for better development of this skill. It requires intense concentration and discipline. Smart technology devices have developed a very quick mode of “listening” to others. Preoccupation with those devices makes it very challenging to give proper weight and attention to face-to-face interactions. Exhibiting weak listening skills with your colleagues/classmates/clients might also mean that they will not get to the point of telling you what they really want to say. Thus, you miss the whole import of what the message was to be.

Questioning. The art and skill of knowing when and how to ask for information. Questions can be of various types, each type having different goals. Inquiries can be broad or narrow, non-leading to leading. They can follow a direct funnel or an inverted funnel approach. A questioner can probe to follow up primary questions and to remedy inadequate responses. Probes can range from encouraging more discussion, to asking for elaboration on a point, to even being silent. Developing this skill also requires controlling one’s own need to talk and control the conversation.

Empathy. Sensing and perceiving what others are feeling, being able to see their perspective, and cultivating a rapport and connection. To do the latter effectively, you must communicate that understanding back to the other person by articulating accurately their feelings. They then will know that you have listened accurately, that you understand, and that you care. Basic trust and respect can then ensue.

Communicating/Presenting. The ability to assertively present compelling arguments respectfully and sell one’s ideas to others. It also means knowing how to speak clearly and with a style that promotes accurate and complete listening. As a professional, communicating means persuading and influencing effectively in a situation without damaging the potential relationship. Being able to express strong feelings and emotions appropriately in a manner that does not derail the communication is also important.

Resilience. The ability to deal with difficult situations calmly and cope effectively with stress; to be capable of bouncing back from or adjusting to challenges and change; to be able to learn from your failures, rejections, feedback and criticism, as well as disappointments beyond your control. Being resilient and stress hardy also implies an optimistic and positive outlook, one that enables you to absorb the impact of the event, recover within a reasonable amount of time, and to incorporate relevant lessons from the event.

I knew Len Fromm, which is to mean I thought the world of him. And for that reason, I did not want to write this post back in April as I was worried that my sadness at Dean Fromm’s death was clouding my judgment and forcing me to go gaga over his six.

But in re-reading it I realize how great the list really is and how much it deserves further dissemination for reasons that have nothing to do with memorializing a truly decent man.

Dean Fromm’s list just works. Law students and young lawyers, go talk to older lawyers you respect and I am confident you will find that they would agree. And the list works for what it takes to succeed as an international lawyer as well, which should be no surprise, since international lawyering is really no different than any other kind of lawyering. If you want to succeed as a lawyer, work on the six. I particularly love the line about silence, as it took me years to realize how valuable silence can be in getting people to reveal things, even things they never intended to reveal.

The scary thing about the Fromm Six is that we lawyers tend not to be very good at many of the things on the list. Lawyers are trained (maybe even over-trained) to be rational, logical and unemotional and to focus on merit. But life, and thus lawyering, is not always so simple. Dean Fromm’s list thus tilts much more towards EQ than towards IQ, and rightfully so.

For more on what it takes to become a China lawyer/international lawyer, check out the following:

I am still gaga over Dean Fromm’s list and I am going to make it a part of my future email responses. What do you think?

  • Sean Wood

    I’m a young attorney so I have a lot to learn but even in more short time of practicing I can see how each of these six make a good lawyer. I wish law schools were better at teaching these competencies. Perhaps they are skills not easily taught.

    • http://www.chinalawblog.com/ Dan Harris

      Sean,

      All attorneys (young and old) have a lot to learn. That’s what makes this profession so much fun. It is always changing and each situation is a little bit different from the last. The mere fact that you admit to having more to learn and that you are concerned about learning more bodes well for you as a lawyer.

  • Bitter Lawyer

    I so wish I Mr. Fromm had been my dean. At my law school (which I have decided not to name), the attitude was to get us in, get us out and get the top students high paying jobs so that they could donate lots of money back to the school. Actually teaching us how to succeed was never really on the table.

  • Martin Jones

    Dan, For those needing to get up to speed quickly on the basics of Chinese Commercial Law, VUB in Belgium in conjunction with Renmin University, Beijing offer a one year course which covers a multitude of key pieces of commercial and environmental legislation, contracts, company law, written language, Chinese economics, culture and history

  • Lucas Blaustein

    I left law school to pursue a professional program in Agribusiness. It was the best decision of my life.

    My current position is a blend of science, negotiation, purchasing, logistics, customer service, economics, computer analytics, and management. I am a buyer of non-market commodities for the world’s second largest agribusiness company.

    If your dream is to work with China or in China, my best suggestion is to first become good at what you do. Mandarin is only a skill. As a skill it is only as useful as the other skills you have to compliment it.

    I would have been a terrible lawyer, but I am an excellent agribusiness professional. Learn from my lesson and first focus on what motivates you, on where you can excel… whether that be litigating or making food.

  • John W

    This is a great post for those who aim to become top international lawyers.