Summer Reading

As the summer slips away there may still be time to read. For that matter if one is in academia, one should find time to read no matter what. Dan’s first bit of advice to me was read, read, and oh yeah read. Now I entered the field in part because I missed reading and writing. I love the fact that when I say I worked on the weekend, people think “Oh, too bad,” while I think I just enjoyed what I was doing, but it happens to be part of my work. As I tell my students, lawyering is a nerdy profession. Don’t fight it; EMBRACE THE NERD WITHIN. One way to do that is, you guessed it, to read. So what should one read? That depends on the topic of interest of course. Nonetheless, one person has started a great project that merits a nod.

Patrick O’Donnell’s list of biblographies at Ratio Jurist is a great public service. Take a look. Given the number of topics he wishes to cover in the future, he needs some sense that people care. Checking out his lists and perhaps even sending him a thank you note is nice way to do that. Who knows? Perhaps you can convince him to post his list on capital punishment or science and technology just in time for you to start that super cool article.

One last note to non-academics and students: although practice may seem isolated from outside reading, I found that the best attorneys I knew read voraciously about their area of the law and about how to excel in writing or oral argument. In addition, if one feels that the job is boring or not a fit, read about the area you want to be in. That way when the opportunity to enter that field of your dreams arises, you will at least show that you really do know the area and are dedicated to it. Experience in an area matters of course but so does evidence that you love the field and wish to excel in it.

Deven Desai

Deven Desai is an associate professor of law and ethics at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also the first, and to date, only Academic Research Counsel at Google, Inc., and a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. He is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and the Yale Law School. Professor Desai’s scholarship examines how business interests, new technology, and economic theories shape privacy and intellectual property law and where those arguments explain productivity or where they fail to capture society’s interest in the free flow of information and development. His work has appeared in leading law reviews and journals including the Georgetown Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Wisconsin Law Review, and U.C. Davis Law Review.

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4 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Sorry, Deven. Once again I feel I should augment your advice for people who might actually want to practice law.

    Drilling down and reading voraciously about your area of law can actually be counterproductive. If you’re doing transactions, a sensitivity to the nuances of drafting is certainly essential, but a highly detailed knowledge about case law may get you focused too much on pathologies, rather than usual practice. Moreover, it isn’t so difficult for a client to find someone who knows a lot about a particular area of law.

    What a client cares about is finding someone who understands his or her BUSINESS. The client also cares about finding someone with whom he or she can have personal rapport. (Lest you think coporate clients are “it”s, you will always be dealing with flesh-and-blood human beings, and usually with one key decision-maker, such as a GC or other in-house lawyer if the company is big.)

    For this reason, it’s important that you read stuff OUTSIDE law. That’s true even if you just would like some interesting work, even if you don’t have aspirations to be a fat-cat rainmaker. Here’s a very incomplete list of real-life examples from my own career:

    @ I studied German from 7th-10th grade in public school, then let it drop. By junior year in college, I sort of envied my peers who were taking German literature courses, so I tried my hand at reading some too. It was painful at first, but I made a point to read at least one or two novels in German each year for a few years after that (including the four years I took off between college and law school). My 2L summer internship was at an international business law firm in NYC where my knowledge of German was a prerequisite for the job.

    @ Also in college, I decided to teach myself Italian well enough to read some poetry. About 10 years after that, I used it to get us around during my honeymoon. A couple years after that, I was offered a job as GC of a movie studio in L.A. because not only was I an M&A lawyer, but I spoke Italian. (I declined the job, but that’s a long story.)

    @ I was a very mediocre student of physics in college, but after a few years of antipathy toward it I resumed my interest recreationally during law school. I maintained it for 7 or 8 years as an occasional topic for late-night reading while in corporate/securities/M&A practice. Then one day during a recession in that business, I was asked out of the blue to write a physics-related patent application, since the patent prosecutors who’d just joined my full-service firm were electrical engineers and didn’t want to be bothered with it. Thus began my career in earnest as an IP lawyer, and a career-saving transition.

    @ Several years after that, I was helping a big Japanese electronics company negotiate some corporate venture capital investments; it was pretty pure corporate and contract law. Thanks to the same interest in physics, which we’d chatted about during lunches, etc., they offered me a job on the business side as a corporate VC when one of their guys left. (I took that one.)

    The key point is, read stuff you LIKE. If you never use it for your work, you’ll at least have had some R&R. If you do meet someone with whom you can share your enthusiasm for the subject, you may have a chance to combine your fun interest with some paying work.

    For bonus points: if you’re interested in a particular industry, you can also read trade magazines, like Euromoney, Daily Variety, Genetic Engineering News, etc. If you’re kind of a nerd, read professional books or textbooks, in addition to or in lieu of popularizations. Don’t worry if you’re not up to reading the whole thing. As some Hungarian mathematician once said (Halmos or Erdős or Bott, I think), you can learn a lot of math from the first chapters of math books. Even the first chapter of most technical books will give you much of the lingo you’ll need to convince a potential client that your interest goes beyond just reading the science and technology pages in the NY Times. And the cost of the book will repay itself after a few tenths of a billable hour, at most.

  2. I studied German for 4 years in high school and gave it up as well (though it has aided my understanding Yiddish a bunch, which is why I took it in the first place).

    I am quite happy to report that not once in 10 years of practice (or teaching, or law school, or anywhere else for that matter) did my lack of experience with German (or Italian) literature hinder me understand a client’s business or harm my rapport with a client. I guess I dodged a bullet.

    I did and do, however, spend a lot of time reading everything about my area of law – both legal and non-legal (so the physics example above is well taken) – and I am happy to report that clients pay me (well, my firm) hundreds of dollars an hour for me to apply that reading.

    That, plus I like to read murder mysteries during the summer.

    So, I guess folks will have to make their own decisions about what works….

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    For dodging a bullet, mazel tov. If you read what you enjoyed and benefited from it, at least as recreation, that’s the point. Definitely not that one should read Italian poetry for career-advancing reasons. Nor even that one should read Italian poetry at all (though would it hurt?).

    BTW, if you do want to revive your German at some point, there’s a rich vein of 20th Century German-Jewish literature, incl. Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Arthur Schnitzler, Jurek Becker and many others, including many post-WWII writers. I particularly like Wolfgang Hildesheimer, whose “Paradies der falschen Vögel” is a very funny novel about intellectual property (forged paintings); his “Lieblose Legenden” is also a very cute bunch of stories. Some very popular (non-Jewish, as far as I know) writers in the past five years or so include Martin Suter (“Lila, Lila” – another copyright-centric plot line), Daniel Kehlmann (whose “Die Vermessung der Welt” was a hugely bestselling novel about mathematician C.F. Gauss), and Jakob Arjouni (esp. “Idioten,” ironic stories about idiots, and “Hausafgaben,” a very ironic novel about political correctness).

  4. A.J. Sutter says:

    sorry, misspelled that last title: “Hausaufgaben” [“Homework”].