Law school wisdom: 10 chapters from 10 diverse books (Part 2 of 3)

Posted on 08-02-2016 by

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 #7, #6 and #5

 #7 The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay


Not a “chapter” per se, but No. 10, written by James Madison, is arguably the most important/famous of the 85 Federalist Papers. No. 10 is important to any constitutional discussion because it offers a forceful and critical “why” to our “well constructed union.”

That “why,” as Madison underscored it, is the “violence of faction.”

In today’s politics, the “violence of faction” may seem normal, if not acceptable. But in 1787, Madison branded it a dangerous mischief:

the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties; and ... measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party; but by the superior force of an interested and over-bearing majority.

Out of Madison’s argument comes a remarkable truth that every law student (if not citizen) should know: it’s an inaccuracy to call our government a simple “democracy.” 

In describing the mischief of a “pure democracy,” Madison went on to argue:

When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government … enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest, both the public good and the rights of other citizens. ...   A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual.

So tread lightly the word “democracy” because America isn’t a “pure democracy.”

America is a “republic” as guaranteed in Article. IV, Section 4:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government ....


 #6 The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Chapter 6: Save $1,000 Fast: Walk Before You Run

Debt ... it’s a painful, yet inseparable, part of your legal education. You can:

  • face it now;
  • face it later;
  • face it never.

Option 1 is the correct choice (here it is again with a little more urgency):

Get your butt out of debt today!

In the book The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey discusses the steps you need to eventually get out of debt. His analogy for that process: you “eat an elephant one bite at a time.”

In Chapter 6, Ramsey offers you a starting point for your get-out-of-debt journey. To eat that elephant, you need a fork ... that is, a tool.

Your first tool: a budget. Ramsey stresses that:

You have to tell money what to do or it leaves. A written budget for the month is your money goal. People who win at anything have written goals.

Many law students will push back against this suggestion. They’ll say budgeting’s the antithesis of youth and freedom. Or they’ll accept debt as a fixed element in their law school crucible.

Fool yourself with this thinking and let the debt keep piling on. 

For anyone who’s listening: Start a budget. Know where your dollars are going.

At this early stage in your life, make money management habitual for the rest of your life.


 #5 The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Chapter 8: Giacomo Casanova’s Unfailing Luck: The Problem of Silent Evidence

The Federal Rules of Evidence make no mention of “silent evidence.” But as a lawyer, the term should echo in your head.

The “problem of silent evidence,” as Taleb calls it, is our tendency:

to be superficial, to heed what we see and not heed what does not vividly come to mind.

He illustrates the problem with this age-old question: Does crime pay? His answer:

Newspapers report on the criminals who get caught. There is no section in the New York Times recording the stories of those who committed crimes but have not been caught. ... Once we seep ourselves into the notion of silent evidence, so many things around us that were previously hidden start manifesting themselves.

For Taleb, silent evidence exposes our weakness for imparting explanation – saying because instead of accepting randomness. But with apologies to Taleb’s genius, silent evidence isn’t just about randomness.

It also exposes a hurdle to digital research.

Algorithms decide upon and rank our research results, both legal and personal:

  • Page 1 results, in a sense, shout at us. We listen.
  • Page 10 results, being more of a whisper, often go unheard.
  • Further down the line – Page 20 results. We rarely venture that far, but that’s where the silent evidence sometimes sits.

The point: Legal research (or internet research) often requires digging and more digging. Algorithms depend upon search queries to help amplify, dampen or silence the noise. But even silent noise – like silent evidence – can have value.

So keep Shepardizing® and keep digging.


Read 10 chapters (from 10 books):  A single work of law school wisdom (Part 1)