I am a classic litigator -- I have a short attention span and am easily distracted by shiny things. Before going into law I spent several years studying number theory and was getting ready to head off to do my doctorate when I looked at the way my supervisor worked. He was a smart charming professor at the University of Toronto who had focused his research on a very technical branch of number theory and had essentially spent the last ten years thinking very hard about one thing. I knew that this was not what I was going to be able to do, so off to litigation where I have learned about everything from how to do back surgery, the differences between different types of motor oil additives to obscure aspects of aboriginal-colonial relations.
This is the time of year where I am remindedthat there are people who are really really good at things. They do make me feel like I have led a somewhat dissipated life. What usually triggers my thinking about this is seeing the articling student application forms where their list of achievements makes me wonder if somehow I have not gotten their parent's curriculum vitae by mistake. What can I say about the young lawyer who before going to law school has won the world raquetball championship or done a television series about driving a London cab from Beijing to Trafalagar Square or won an olympic medal in sailing? These are all things which took mastering skills and getting very very good at them at time in their lives where I was reading bad science fiction (well some good) and playing cards.
My wife is another good example of this. She is an opera singer (teaching now days but still an opera singer). I consider it a show off point if I can vaguely remember that there was some Supreme Court of Canada case that might have vaguely mentioned in some year in the 1980's a point that might be useful in a case I am working on. By contrast, she on a regular basis will remember several thousand notes, know how to time them so as to fall withing 1/64 of the a second to where they are supposed to be and be able to sing them to words in a language she does not know. Sometimes this has to be done while wearing unconfortable costumes while lying, standing, running or jumping on stage while trying to coordinate with a shaky orchestra (who actually get to have their music while she does not). This is a good trick which makes my vague recollections of cases not so impressive.
All that being said though, another one of the great pleasures of being a litigator, particularly one who has been fortunate enough to stumble into a number of interesting cases, is that I get to meet lots of people who are really good at things. They are generally smart, interesting and compelling -- all things that make them a pleasure to be around.