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

Posted on 08-02-2016 by
Tags: Catapult Your Career

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 #4, #3, #2 and #1

 #4 Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Chapter 1: Simple

Writing ...

... for lawyers, the supreme weapon ...  

... but for new attorneys, a skill that’s lacking.

As I’ve mentioned before:

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

Legal writers should read Made to Stick cover to cover; its “S.U.C.C.E.S” principles memorized and practiced. But law students (and attorneys) can be suckers for long, convoluted, technical writing so I’ll focus on the first “S”: Simple.

Here’s the Heath brother’s simple formula for “simple”:

Core + Compact = Simple.

The “Core” of your message is pretty much self-explanatory; it’s the most essential information of your “story” (a/k/a the “lead”). It demands “forced prioritization.” However, as the Heath brothers note, this is rarely easy:

Forced prioritization is really painful. Smart people recognize the value of all the material. They see nuance, multiple perspectives – and because they fully appreciate the complexities of a situation, they’re often tempted to linger there. This tendency to gravitate toward complexity is perpetually at war with the need to prioritize.

As for “Compact,” they offer this simple, yet tough-to-execute, truth:

The more we reduce the amount of information in an idea, the stickier it will be.


 #3 TheAmerican Bible by Stephen Prothero

Epistles: Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

From Patrick Henry to Mark Twain to Ronald Reagan, Prothero’s The American Bible sketches the 240-year arc of American writing. Prothero introduces the impact of these writings with a simple phrase:

Words matter.

For Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., words mattered greatly. His I Have a Dream speech, listed in Prothero’s book under Prophets, rings loudly with words we will always remember.

But equally powerful, and more personal, is King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, written April 16, 1963. Beyond the Letter’s greater message and King’s palpable struggle, law students should ponder the moral and legal question King asked himself:

How can you [King] advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?

King’s reply:

The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is not law at all.”

The Alien and Sedition Acts ....

Korematsu v. United States ....

Jim Crow laws ....

History validates that our laws are not always just.


 #2 May It Please the Court ... edited by Peter Irons and Stephanie Guitton

Part 5: A Right of Personal Privacy

Under this heading, you’ll find a transcript of the edited arguments from Roe v. Wade.  An interesting read, made even more interesting by this overlooked question from the state’s attorney, Robert Flowers:

Are we to place this power in the hands of a mother, in a doctor? [emphasis added]

An odd question, considering that the right to an abortion is referred to (and argued as) a woman’s right.

I’ll stop here and admit - I’m cheating.

This is less about a chapter on Roe v. Wade and more a lesson on reading Roe v. Wade  ... that and other Supreme Court cases.

Roe v. Wade is abortion’s legal nucleus, but few have actually read it. If you haven’t, you might be surprised to learn that Roe isn’t just about abortion rights.

It’s also about a doctor’s right to perform abortions.

Here’s what the Court said regarding a doctor’s right to perform abortions:

[F]or the period of pregnancy prior to this "compelling" point, the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient's pregnancy should be terminated. [emphasis added]

So heed this lesson from Roe: To truly understand a Supreme Court opinion, reading it page by page is a paramount.


 #1 Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Part I: Experiences in a Concentration Camp

Let’s say you’re asked to define “freedom.”

As a law student, you might default to Con Law ... unleash that Bill of Rights checklist in your head;

          • press freedoms
          • religious freedoms
          • speech freedoms

But what if you were asked to define the ultimate “freedom”?

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl does just that ... something he did while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.

These two paragraphs, like no other, clearly and eloquently define your “freedom”:

We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. ... [T]hey offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

... Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those power which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom ....

Or as Mark Twain so wisely put it:

Life does not consist mainly  - or even largely – of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.

On your journey as a law student – the highs and lows, the victories and defeats – never forget that you carry the innate/inalienable/inner freedom to choose your reaction to any given set of circumstances ... to liberate your thoughts above mere happenings and facts.

Corny? Trite? Clichéd?

That depends on you.

Ultimately, it’s your freedom to choose.


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

Read 10 chapters (from 10 books):  A single work of law school wisdom (Part 2)