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For the Sake of Argument

A Life in the Law


(You can read excerpts from For the Sake of Argument here.)

I've been involved with the law since the fall of 1981, when I decided to apply to law school.  That was only the first of many decisions about a legal career I made on too little information.  At every stage I was uneasily aware that I was only half-informed.  With hindsight I can see that "half" was an overestimate. 

Law schools were originally independent vocational schools that have been only half-absorbed into the academy.  As described in chapter 3:

Students go to law school to learn how to be a lawyer, but the professors aren't interested in teaching that.  Frequently, they can't.  The bright student senses the disconnect but rarely recognizes the source.  It takes a student of exceptional self-confidence to recognize that the only inadequate person in the lecture hall is the hyperarticulate, imperious, intimidating figure in the front.

I went to three different law schools (one, two, and three) (okay, that last link was cheating - here's the Uni's law building, "one of those poured-concrete buildings that somehow manage to look aggressively modern and depressingly run down at the same time").  The three schools had three very different approaches to teaching the law, but none did much to prepare me for the actual practice of the profession.  It required five years of flailing around after graduation before I stumbled into a career I didn't mind having.

I wrote For the Sake of Argument for anyone who wants to shorten the flailing-around period.  I specifically wrote it for you if you are:

  • Someone considering applying to law school, or deciding what law school to attend.
  • A law student trying to make sense of the strange total institution in which you find yourself immersed, or trying to guess what comes next. 
  • A recent law school graduate who discovers that starting a legal career can feel just like rolling the dice.
  • A lawyer in mid-career who's beginning to wonder about the grass on the other side of the fence.

The book tells you everything I know now that I wish I'd known at each of those turning points in my career.  It's not a how-to book, except in the sense that it explains how to make bad decisions about your career: make them like I did, on as little information as I had when I made them. 

Once you read the book, you won't have my excuse of ignorance.  But then, you won't need it.

The book's also for you if you're a lawyer who's reached a comfortable resting point from which to reflect on what a long strange trip it's been.  I can just about guarantee that you'll find a reflection of yourself someplace in the book, and I hope the shock of recognition will make you laugh.

But the book is also for that group of people we call "non-lawyers."  It's for you if you are:

  • Someone who deals with lawyers professionally, or is unfortunate enough to be caught up in the meat grinder of a lawsuit, whether as party or witness.  For the Sake of Argument will allow you to glimpse how things look from the other side of the desk.
  • The husband, wife, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, friend or lover of a law student or lawyer.  Law school and the legal life change a person, and that means it also changes the lives of those who live with the law student and lawyer. 

Once, early in my career, one of the more straight-laced partners in my firm gave me some unexpected advice: "We have to be careful not to start cross-examining our wives."  I found the advice particularly touching, because I understood I was hearing a confession as well as a warning. 

The law trains you to relate to people in ways no reasonably well-adjusted person would want to relate to them.  Within the arena, that's okay: the point isn't to make meaningful connections.  It's to obtain things of benefit to our clients.  We're instruments.

The trick, the partner was telling me, is to master one more technique they don't teach in trial practice courses: how to leave one's work personality at work. 

It was good advice.  Unfortunately, learning to alternate between personalities is not a tried-and-true means of achieving inner peace.

If you're involved with a law student or lawyer, whether in business or in your personal life, you're experiencing these effects second-hand, through the filter of a person who may not fully understand what he or she is going through. 


from the introduction

Lawyers occupy a unique position in our society: necessary, respected, trusted, even (in their incarnation as judges) revered—and ridiculed and despised. ... It does something to a person to belong to such a profession.

For the Sake of Argument will give you some idea of what your husband, wife, mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, friend or lover is going through.  

Above all I  wrote For the Sake of Argument for you if you want to join me in knocking down the laugh barrier that makes so many people go all solemn when they talk or write about judges and their pronouncements. 

In a democratic society, no government employee should be an object of veneration, and particularly not when the government employee in question uses his or her share of the government's power to insist on being worshipped. 

Imagine if the Motor Vehicle Department clerk refused to let you take the eye test until you said something absurd, like "Pretty please with a cherry on top," or "Mother may I", or, I don't know, something equally ridiculous such as "Your honor."

 from the introduction

If, as I believe, the only appropriate response to pomposity is laughter, lawyers are rarely without a reason to laugh.

For the Sake of Argument

Order from your local independent bookseller or from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Tower.com.  (And here's a reminder of Tower Records' glory days, for those who remember flipping through the bins of LPs.)