Book Review: The Marble and the Sculptor


There is much advice available to young and aspiring lawyers on how to be a lawyer. The vast majority of it is written by:

a) People who are selling something—failed lawyers and charlatans using “free webinars” to sell vaporware; or

b) People who practice law, but have been doing so for so long that they aren’t in close touch with the world that new lawyers face, with stratospheric debt in a recessionary economy; or

c) People who can’t write for squat.

The problem with the crap advice that is readily available is that the person needing advice can’t necessarily tell the difference between the wheat and the chaff. How is the young-or-aspiring lawyer to sort out the bad or worthless career advice from the treasures of wisdom? I’m about to make it easy.

If you’re a young or aspiring lawyer, you must read this book: The Marble and the Sculptor: From Law School to Law Practice. If you are a recent law-school graduate, a law student, or contemplating law school, make this your first investment in your professional development. Even before you find a mentor, read this book. Mark it up with a red pencil with questions for the mentors you will eventually get.

It’s written by Keith Lee, of Associate’s Mind. Lee has none of the usual impediments to giving useful advice: he practices law; he hasn’t been doing it for so long that law school is a vague distant memory; and he writes well.

The form of the book is itself a lesson in being a lawyer. It’s not a nuts-and-bolts practical book, but an introduction to the philosophy of lawyering.

Like any good lawyer, and as he recommends in his chapter “On the Importance of Stealing,” Lee supplements his own thoughts on the subject with others’ ideas, and credits generously. Interspersed in a great deal of his original writing are Dan Hull‘s Twelve Rules of Client Service, George Orwell’s Six Rules for Clear Writing, Winston Churchill’s Five Elements of Persuasive Speaking, among others.

Lee came to the practice of law with some experience in the wider world, and this shows in his wide-ranging curiosity and his exploration in the book of topics that are not directly related to the practice of law, such as martial arts, weightlifting (a meditation on Henry Rollins’s The Iron), and military history.

Unfortunately, he occasionally hits a clinker. In his chapter, “Every Word Matters,” Lee quotes at length from this blog post:

Consider the following:

(1) Sally hates Mary.

a. How likely is this because Sally is the kind of person who hates people?

b. How likely is this because Mary is the kind of person whom people hate?

Sally hates Mary doesn’t obviously supply the relevant information, but … numerous studies have found that people nonetheless rate (a) as more likely than (b). In contrast, people find Sally frightens Mary more indicative of Sally than of Mary (the equivalent of rating (b) higher than (a)). Sentences like Sally likes Mary are called “object-biased,” and sentences like Sally frightens Mary are called “subject-biased.” There are many of sentences of both types.

I’m not paying $40 for the article on which the blog post is based to prove it, but that could not possibly be right, because in both cases, according to the post, people are finding the sentence more indicative of the subject, Sally, than of the object, Mary—answer (a) to the “how likely” question.

From the abstract, it appears that when people read “Sally hates Mary,” with its mental (or state) verb, they should rate it more likely that Sally hates Mary because Mary is the kind of person people hate. In other words, (b) instead of (a); when they read “Sally frightens Mary,” with its behavioral (or action) verb, they should rate it more likely that Sally frightens Mary because Sally is the kind of person who frightens people. In other words, (a) instead of (b).

None of which weakens Lee’s point: every word matters. ((Lee’s book is deserving of better copy editing than the ABA provided.)) I just don’t think Lee meant the illustration to work on the deeper level that it does.

The book, too, works on a deeper level. Lee teaches not merely by words, but also by setting an example. In the writing of the book, he demonstrates deep thought about why we should do what we should, and he adapts what is useful, rejects what is useless, and adds what is specifically his own.

The young-or-aspiring lawyer who reads this book is not going to have everything she needs to be a lawyer. But she’s going to have been pointed in the right direction so that she can begin thinking, as Lee thinks and as we all should think, about a philosophy of the practice of law.


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