I received a review copy of Keith Lee’s* The Marble and the Sculptor, ABA (2013). While I was pretty sure I would like the Keith, I was inclined to hate the book. After all, Keith is a fan of Peter Drucker and other management gurus and those folks turn me off. In fact, I have always detested “how to” books.
Keith’s book is about studying and then practicing law. It is intended for law students and “young” lawyers. That David Lat and Scott Greenfield, two legal superstars, praise the book to high heaven piqued my interest. Heretofore, I have always found “how to” books recipes for disaster, irrelevant or mostly wrong. Since neither Lat nor Greenfield is a whore or an idiot and they have made their excellent reputations the hard way, I wondered why they would lend their names to the book jacket and forward. So, I read Keith’s book over the weekend.
What did I find?
First, Keith can write. Unlike many law books of this or any other kind, the words and sentences are short and the meaning unmistakable. There is a refreshing sense of wide-eyed honesty. Lee is not afraid to reveal himself and by so doing his book comes alive to reveal the machinery that is the practice of law.
Second, Lee is very big on hard work and very opposed to whining. That he is a martial arts expert (with a black belt) tells you much about his willingness to work like a demon at his craft. And, make no mistake, the practice of law is a craft. When he recounts his experience at a Chinese monastery being beaten on the back and taught the meaning of laughter with a mirror, I broke out laughing with him. The simple story is worth the price of the book ($24.95) and, perhaps, law school tuition as well. If nothing else, the vignette captures what it means to be a practicing lawyer. Unrelenting hard work at shitty pay, the mental and physical discipline of a SEAL team leader gone off the deep end, soul searing pain when you lose a case for a client you love, awful boredom, malpractice terror and gales of twisted laughter.
Third, the book is full of good and practical suggestion for practicing law. He writes knowingly about fundamental skills,** clients and client services, and professional development. For many, these parts of the book will be the most informative and helpful. Since I will never fill out a goddamn time slip ever again, I found Keith’s discussion both nostalgic and nauseating. The practice is hard, very hard. Who says you can’t remember pain? Keith forced me to relive it with the accuracy of a documentary film maker.
Fourth, Keith writes about law school and for old guys like me who care desperately for the survival of the profession this is the most significant part of the book. He starts his book with this advice: “Do Not Go to Law School.” Law school he explains in rich detail is not what applicants have in mind as they fill out the entrance applications. Lee tells the truth about law schools and that becomes the perfect introduction to what the practice of law actually entails. Indeed, if law schools wanted to be truthful about what they are selling, they should make every admission seeker certify that before mailing their application they have read Keith’s book. I am perfectly serious.
The Marble and the Sculptor is a praiseworthy “how to book.” That Keith Lee was able to write a “how to book” that I would call praiseworthy is a measure of how much I enjoyed the book and how very good I think it is.
*Keith Lee practices law with the Hamer group in Alabama. He is also the founding editor of the highly regarded blog, Associate’s Mind, one of the most popular legal blogs in the US. He will have a new book out in 2015.
**When Keith wrote about George Orwell, I completely forgave his reference to Drucker. See my post entitled Orwell lives.