Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Contrarian law school tip #37: make a reading list

The start of the fall semester at U of L Law is now less than a week away. The first-year lambs are picking up their case books, browsing student organization tables at orientation, and doing other various activities that will eventually lead them to slaughter. Just kidding. Louisville Law does a great job of making sure that 1Ls and upper-class students don't lose their heads during what can be the most stressful years of one's life. I am volunteering at a panel next week to talk about balancing law school and family. The best advice I've heard from anyone about starting law school came from Kathleen Bean, the school's dean of student life. Her words to us two years ago: don't let them mess with your head. The pronoun "them" was a  general reference to students, faculty, exams, jobs, and perhaps most of all the pressure that law students put on themselves to succeed.

There are plenty of ways to not let law school mess with your head, and I'm not going to try to list them all in this post. One of my favorite is to keep a personal book list. That's right: read for pleasure. Even with all of the dense legal tomes that overwhelm our lives for hours each day, I look forward to spending the last twenty or thirty minutes of each night with a good book. Before my 1L year, I read A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr, along with Getting to Maybe, One L by Scott Turow, and quite a few John Grisham novels. Below are three of my favorite books from this summer. I am betting they will stick with me at least as well as my fall reading material on negotiable instruments and secured transactions.

  • How to Start & Build a Law Practice, by Jay Foonberg. This class how-to book shows how to open your first office, where to buy your stationary, how to avoid sketchy clients, and how to minimize your chances of total and absolute failure. You can buy it for $80 in hardcover, or check it out from the law library for free. 
  • The Testament, by John Grisham. I just can't make it through a summer without reading one Grisham novel. Classic literature they are not, but I love 'em just the same. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. An airplane stewardess saw me reading this and gave me a strange look. Why would you want to read that again, she asked, referring to the obvious fact that every American high school or college student was forced to read this classic. To me, the answer is just as obvious: because I am no longer being forced to do so, because it's a wonderful love story, and because it offers terrific insights into the practice of law and life in general in the South. It also contains amazing descriptive language, like this passage about summer heat and humidity: "Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum."

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