When Keith Lee started his acclaimed blog, Associate’s Mind, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Clearly, Keith wasn’t a whiner, nor afraid of hard work, adversity or the role he was to play as a lawyer. He understood that we serve clients, not the other way around. What was wrong with this kid?
Today, Keith’s book The Marble and the Sculptor, published by the ABA, is officially released. Much as I would like to review it as I would any other book, I can’t. Having written the forward to the book, it’s a bit disingenuous to make it appear now as if I’m reviewing it as a neutral.
But had I not thought this book worthy of being mandatory reading for law students and new lawyers, I wouldn’t have written the forward. See how that works?
The book is an aggregation of accumulated wisdom. Keith borrows heavily from some of the best experienced lawyers around, like Dan Hull and Mark Bennett, There’s even a bit of me in there, though without attribution which is probably wise.
What makes the book work is that Keith has synthesized the ideas and words of lawyers who came before him into easily readable, easily comprehensible, easily digestible nuggets. Anecdotes are brief and interesting, and are used to demonstrate the point he’s trying to make. They do their job well.
Although many of the messages in the book come from curmudgeonly types, this is a book only a younger lawyer could have successfully written. It doesn’t lecture. It’s not pedantic. It’s written by a young lawyer for other young lawyers, and its tone and manner are perfect for its audience. Had a graybeard tried to offer the same advice, he would be accused of arrogance and condescension. From one of their own, new lawyers will embrace the wisdom rather than fight it.
Before he begins, he offers a challenge to the reader by recognizing that this book isn’t for everyone. The point isn’t to dismiss anyone as unworthy, or to put anyone down, as so many overly sensitive and entitled new lawyers seem to view any ideas that don’t fully support their misery or excuse their complaints.
Rather, the challenge is to make the decision to use the book to pick themselves up and make the best of their careers. It’s not that they’re necessarily wrong about law school or the profession, but that no one ever succeeded by complaining about it. He offers a choice, make it better or don’t bother reading the book. If all they want is a tummy rub, this book isn’t for them. And indeed, it’s not.
He starts out in law school and works his way through the early years of practice. Keith doesn’t sugar coat reality, but at the same time, doesn’t wallow in misery. There is an aspect of the book that comes through the eyes of a martial artist, employing concepts used to push through one challenge to push through another. It’s an apt analogy, and serves not only to help the reader to appreciate that all accomplishment requires effort and focus, but reminds the reader that law isn’t the only endeavor that isn’t easy. Yet people survive and thrive, and so can they.
It had been my plan to discuss my favorite chapter of the book, entitled “The Privilege of Being A Servant.” Perhaps nothing more epitomizes what lawyers are about than this, and until a lawyer fully grasps why the profession exists, he cannot move forward to fulfill his obligation. But then Jamison Koehler,
bastard, beat me to the punch in discussing this chapter, so I defer.
It’s not at all clear to me why Keith asked me to write the forward, as it seems there were any number of better choices around. But having done so, I was able to coerce Keith into drawing me a pic of Sal the Pineapple on the title page in return.
This is important as I fully anticipate Keith’s book to join the very select stable of books that form the foundation for new lawyers to transition to the practice of law. For all those lawprofs who claim they want their students to be “practice ready,” this book is a far, far better step toward that unaccomplishable goal than they could ever do on their own. This should be required reading before any student is allowed to graduate from law school. (That’s a hint, prawfs.)
Is the book perfect? Frankly, I’m a bit iffy on the title. I get why Keith chose it, but it conjures an image of Michelangelo for me (come to think of it, The Agony and the Ecstasy wouldn’t have been a bad title). Had Keith asked my advice, I would have suggested he call it The Rookie’s Guide to Practicing Law to juxtapose it with Mark Hermann’s Curmudgeon’s Guide, another must-read staple for lawyers. Aside from that, I’ve got nothing. The book is the real deal.
Years from now, this book will still be read by new lawyers and its evergreen contents will be as useful and truthful as they are today. And only my copy has this really cool picture. Eat yer hearts out.