Law school wisdom: 10 chapters from 10 diverse books (Part 1 of 3)

Posted on 08-02-2016 by
Tags: LIT , lawschool

60 minutes of pleasure reading.

For law school students, it’s a waste.

During law school, I never wasted 60 minutes on pleasure reading. If a book didn’t have “Casebook” or “Bluebook” or “Law” in the title, then forget it.

But I’m not asking for 60 minutes reading time. If you’re a law school student, I’m only asking for 10 minutes (maybe 15 if you do more than scan).

Give me just 10 minutes, and I’ll give you 10 books to read.

And to guard your valuable time, I’ll boil them down to their best chapters.

Consider it a single book of wisdom containing 10 brief chapters. Just 10 minutes of reading time.

Don’t fret ... your Civ Pro grade won’t suffer.


Books/Chapters #10, #9 and #8

 #10. Words that Work by Dr. Frank Luntz

The Introduction

Skip a book’s intro, and you might miss something good.

In Words that Work, the Introduction is more than good ... it’s the hero.

Luntz’ book offers numerous insights into better writing (see Chapter 1: The 10 Rules of Effective Language). And better writing is extremely important to law students (i.e., future lawyers).

Need proof?

95% of hiring partners/associates warn that law graduates lack key skills, including writing and drafting documents.

The cornerstone to good writing is buried within Luntz’ Introduction. Luntz’ rule, stated simply yet forcefully, is:

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Failed writers neglect this rule because ego propels them before their audience. But your writing isn’t yours to own; it’s subservient to your listener - his/her emotions, preconceptions, biases and beliefs.

As a legal writer, adhere to this anti-ego tool, what Luntz describes as the “key to successful communication:

[T]ake the imaginative leap of stuffing yourself right into your listener’s shoes to know what they are thinking and feeling in the deepest recesses of their mind and heart.


 #9 Original Meanings by Jack N. Rakove

Chapter 1: The Perils of Originalism

As a law student, you’ve likely picked a constitutional team: Team Originalism vs. Team Living Constitution.

For Team Originalism, maybe you cite Madision, who pointed to:

the veneration which time bestows on every thing, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability.

For Team Living Constitution, maybe you cite Jefferson

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. ... [But] laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.

Or you can cite Rakove’s Original Meanings, which makes the case that originalism isn’t so cut-and-dry.

In Chapter 1: The Perils of Originalism, Rakove rejects Associate Justice Robert Jackson’s overstatement that the Framers’ ideas have to be “divined from materials almost as enigmatic as the dreams Joseph was called upon to interpret for Pharaoh.”

Source material is aplenty; that’s not the struggle.

The struggle, as Rakove points out, is a range of questions surrounding originalism:

  • What did the Constitution originally mean?
  • What did the Framers originally intend?
  • What did the Ratifiers (and the electorate beyond them) originally understand they were being asked to endorse or eject?

Couched within these questions are three different (though loosely synonymous) terms: “meaning,” “intention” and “understanding.” Distinguish them, and as Rakove notes, the originalism path gets weedy:

Meaning must be derived from usage ... and it is at this point that the alternative formulations of original intention and understanding become pertinent .... Intention connotes purposes and forethought, and it is accordingly best applied to those actors whose decisions produced the constitutional language .... Understanding, by contrast, may be used more broadly to cover the impressions and interpretations of the Constitution formed by its original readers – the citizens, polemicists, and convention delegates who participated in one way or another in ratification.

So if you’re on Team Originalism, Rakove probes the gray areas, helping define your thinking.

And if you’re on Team Living Constitution, Rakove probes the gray areas, helping define your rebuttal.


 #8 The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Chapter 3: What Smart Chess Players and Stupid Criminals Have in Common

In law school, you’ll be surrounded by confident people who offer themselves up as smarter than you.

Will you question their smartness?

Maybe not. The reason: the illusion of confidence.

The illusion of confidence, as described in Chapter 3 of The Invisible Gorilla, has two aspects:

  1. It skews us to overestimate  “our own qualities, especially our abilities relative to other people”; and
  2. It anchors another’s confidence - or lack thereof- to “a valid signal of their own abilities, of the extent of their knowledge, and of the accuracy of their memories.”

The quick lesson: Your confidence as a law student doesn’t necessarily equate with your skill level. Keep digging; keep learning. On the flip side, don’t be intimidated by overconfident peers. They aren’t necessarily legal eagles.

This maxim from Charles Darwin packages the lesson perfectly:

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.