Our Favorite Books About Lawyering (and Other Stuff)

our favorite books about lawyers

Summer is almost here, so you may find yourself on vacation with a chance to do some reading. If law school and lawyering haven’t made reading something you only do for money, you probably are looking forward to reading for fun. Or perhaps to learn how to be a better attorney. So I thought it worthwhile to ask my fellow Lawyerist writers to name a few of their favorite books about lawyering (or anything else).

Their responses are below. But since this is my post, I get to go first.

Tell me a story, counselor

The best book I’ve ever read about how to be an effective courtroom lawyer is also the best lawyering book I’ve read, period. David Ball’s Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials is invaluable to any courtroom lawyer. I posted about this book a while back, but it deserves more praise.

The book’s title might make you think it’s just about handling a trial. While jury trials are the ultimate trial-court challenge, this is in fact a book that at its core is about shattering your view of yourself as an attorney and getting you to realize how you really come across (to a jury but also to the judge and everyone else). Effective advocacy is not rooted in the technical details of applying law to facts, as law school supposedly teaches you. It’s about being a more effective storyteller than opposing counsel. Facts and law matter, but not nearly as much as you think they do.

It’s no coincidence that this great book was written not by a lawyer but by an actor, director, and writer who developed an interest in law (you’ll see his name again below). Juries (and judges) are people, and people have a hard time turning themselves into detached analysts of the evidence. They want to do a good job, but they also want to be engaged, meaning they don’t want to be bored. They want to like one lawyer more than the other, and they will. That lawyer will likely win. The reason for this is that we all have a need to attach meaning to what happens to us, and we do that by turning events into stories. The jury wants to turn what they hear into a story, and they will. The question is, will it be yours or your opponent’s?

Standing up for the downtrodden

If you want to read a “lawyer as hero” book, try The Buffalo Creek Disaster by Gerald Stern. It’s about the 1972 collapse of a West Virginia coal mine impoundment dam that created a wall of water and debris that killed 125, injured over 1,000 and made over 4,000 homeless. Stern, a young lawyer, represented hundreds of those who refused to accept the coal company’s initial offer. A compelling story, and very well told.

Did you hear the one about the lawyer?

And if you want to better understand how the public views lawyers so as to better ingratiate yourself to potential clients, get a book of lawyer jokes. Even if you secretly hate lawyer jokes, you should at least know a few.

As promised, here are suggestions from other Lawyerist writers. I’d love to hear about your favorite books in the comments.

Sam Glover:

I studiously avoid books about lawyers. But I’d definitely include Carolyn Elefant’s book on starting a solo practice. I also got a lot of good business advice from the E-Myth Revisited.

Niki Black:

I just reviewed a great book for new and wanna-be criminal defense lawyers: Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense by Jill Paperno.

From my review:

(This book) provides young lawyers with advice on just about every aspect of every stage of representing a criminal defendant. From file organization and effective client communication to subpoenaing information and trying a case, this book covers all the bases…I highly recommend this book. It provides much-needed information for young lawyers and should, in my opinion, be a part of every law school curriculum. Paperno’s book is an incredible resource and one that I wish had been available to me when I started practicing criminal law back in 1996. The bottom line: this book is a must-have for all newly graduated and aspiring criminal defense attorneys.

Matt Salzwedel:

Garner on Language and Writing. It’s a compilation of his shorter works and adaptations of others. It’s an easy read: you can read a chapter a night.

Gyi Tsakalakis:

These are more “for business” than specifically for “law firms.”

The Lean Startup

Getting Things Done

The Checklist Manifesto

Writing:

The Elements of Style

For Trial Lawyers:

How to Argue & Win Every Time: At Home, At Work, In Court, Everywhere, Everyday

Ball on Damages 3

Reptile

Rules of the Road (Friedman & Malone)

And one blog:

Paul Luvera’s Plaintiff Trial Lawyer Tips

Sybil Dunlop:

I loved reading The Firm in law school—it was familiar, yet strange (OCI existed, but not in the way that it was conducted at my school). And, as a book about a recent, idealistic law grad, I had fun identifying with the main character. (I should add that my firm is not run by the mob).

I absolutely hated One L–I thought the protagonist was a navel-gazing whiner who needed to suck it up and get his reading done.

Chris Bradley:

Here’s William Zinsser’s wicked stepchild of a book to his well-known On Writing Well. It’s called Writing to Learn, and its description on the back says:

Writing to Learn is a book on how to write clearly about any subject, and how to use writing as a means of learning … Zinsser takes the reader into many surprising corners of knowledge and demonstrates that every field has an accessible literature.

Perhaps it was this book that led me to one of my writer heroes, Lewis Thomas, who was a biologist who wrote great essays about medicine and science. Atul Gawande and his collection of essays and thoughts might be one example of a successor to Lewis Thomas. I admire writers like these because they are able to express themselves and describe their fields and make it accessible to laymen.

This is essentially what Zinsser preaches in his Writing to Learn: That people like doctors (and lawyers) can write their way to understanding. Writing is a method of learning, because in putting your thoughts down on paper, you are forced to come to an understanding (or a better understanding than otherwise). I recall Zinsser saying that you can learn almost any field – even something like mathematics – through writing. In other words, math and chemistry and medicine and law each have (or should have) their own accessible literature.

Writers like Thomas and Gawande made that happen for medicine and science.

You know, now that I am paging through Writing to Learn, the take-away for you is that it’s really about how the foundation of writing is thinking. And if you’re shaky on the thinking part, your idea won’t be articulated as fully as it could be. (I struggle with this.) So you can use writing as a way to think through your thoughts. In furtherance of this, there’s this (perhaps old) idea of “writing across the curriculum” that’s apparently practiced in some schools and colleges. It’s where the focus is on writing essays or pieces in all subjects. This is a way to learn that subject. So you’d write essays in math, science, etc., not just in history and English. I think that this book definitely applies to lawyers. Those lawyers who have logic and thought down cold are ultimately going to produce (generally) better writing.

Those lawyers who have the ability to “write through” their knowledge of the law or their areas of practice will ultimately have a better understanding of what they do and will be better able to communicate their ideas.

(image: reading at the beach from Shutterstock)

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  • Joe

    I highly recommend “Drowning in the Desert: A JAG’s Search for Justice in Iraq”

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/andymergendahl/ Andy Mergendahl

      That looks good. I’m putting it on my list. Thanks.

  • Irina Licandro

    I loved ‘How Can You Defend Those People: The Making of a Criminal Lawyer’ by James S. Kunen.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

    This end of the post cited below expresses perfectly what I was trying to say about writing to learn (though the post is more about reading, and reading voraciously):

    http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/05/the-buffett-formula-how-to-get-smarter

    Pertinent quote:

    “Can you explain what you know to someone else? Try it. Pick an idea you think you have a grasp of and write it out on a sheet of paper as if you were explaining it to someone else.”

  • Deja

    After nearly 8 years of almost 100% family law, I am putting my toe back in the criminal law world, and some of these suggestions are right up my alley. Thanks.