Judge Michael Mosman (’84), recipient of the 2018 BYU Alumni Achievement Award, provided wise professional and personal advice in his lecture “How Not to Be Stupid”.
1. Don’t be corrupted by power
“You have to think about [the corruption of power] as lawyers because you will have power. You will have the power to end marriages, break up companies, send people to prison. In fact, a mere letter from you can ruin someone’s life,” Mosman said. At the beginning of his career, Mosman had to make a critical decision of whether or not to approve a probable cause search. He had decided early on to be honest, which helped him make the decision. “Really I was just trying to come up with the guts to do the right thing,” he said.
2. Keep learning
“I am deeply grateful for my formal education, but almost everything of value I learned on my own since I turned 30,” Mosman said. “It will take you years of study to become knowledgeable in some formal area of law and years of practice to acquire the practical skills you’ll need, but don’t worry, unlike a graded bar exam, you’ll be highly motivated because if you don’t, you’ll starve.”
“I hope the prospect of all this learning excites you. You’ll be a better lawyer, a happier person, and greatly avoid ‘being stupid’ if you dig in and keep learning,” he said.
3. Think like a lawyer, but don’t use that tool to act like a tool
“Stating your arguments better than your loved ones does not make you right… I hope you’ll never have an experience like the one I had of a daughter saying to me, ‘Dad, I can’t talk to you because I feel trapped by your arguments.’ There are a lot of ways I can describe how that felt, but winning isn’t one of them,” Mosman said. “Law school should give you the same thing an afternoon with Socrates would give you: humility in the face of an awareness of all you don’t understand.”
“I’m surprised there are not more humble lawyers since the law is practically a study in human weakness and only willful blindness will exempt you and me from the lesson,” he said.
4. Live life without being a slave to the clock
“You have to find ways to live your life without being a slave to the clock,” Mosman said. He advised students to evaluate the way they look at quality versus quantity time, stating that quality time is what you should give to your job and quantity time is what you give to your family. “Quality time is for work, where we make each minute count…If you pay attention and act intentionally, you can reduce the time you spend at work significantly. In my experience, by up to 25 percent,” he said. When you’re giving quantity time to your family, “you’re not forcing your loved ones to have a relationship with you on your schedule.”
5. Love truth and don’t lie
“There may be no other career that confronts truth and honesty more than the law,” Mosman said. He urged students to make a commitment “to love the truth and to not lie.” He also spoke of the importance of keeping fidelity to your spouse. “Cheating is preceded by lying…Let your iron commitment of truth-telling as a lawyer spill into your home…It takes courage to have fidelity to truth,” he said.
In conclusion, Mosman said, “I probably could have saved a lot of time by keeping it to eight words, ‘O, be wise, what can I say more?’ If you are wise, you can do so much good and doing good will bring you so much joy” (Jacob 6:12).