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To regear your outlook for the coming year, how about starting 2009 on the right path with a book as your guide? Here are four recommended books that will get you thinking about how you want to approach the new year.
Charles Green Recommends:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, has spent years researching how human beings are influenced by other human beings. Since that is precisely what constitutes a large part of the lawyer's job, Cialdini's excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business, 2006 Edition) ought to be required reading in the legal profession-although his advice may come as somewhat counterintuitive to most lawyers. According to Cialdini, the single biggest factor affecting influence is reciprocity-as in, "If you do x for me, I will do y for you." This covers a wide range of behaviors, from Mafia oaths to daily sales interactions. As it applies in lawyer-client relations or relations with judges and juries, though, the most common application is simply in listening-as in, "If you listen to me, I will listen to you." Cialdini's principle lies at the heart of successful negotiations. As human beings, we do not accept advice until and unless we feel listened to by the one giving advice. It's as true for lawyers as for anyone else.
As the old year comes to a close and the new one kicks off, it's useful to gain some fresh perspective-and it never hurts to think about where the law fits in a broader scheme. Since the law is so much about words and logic, it's healthy to remember that words and logic are very limited weapons in terms of influence. This book reminds us of what is even more fundamental in the way in which human beings interact.
Peter Friedman Recommends:
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
I've yet to find another self-help book remotely as good as Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (Anchor, 1995). Lamott writes as if she's your best friend who just happens to be a gifted teacher. She starts with the advice her father gave her brother when, as a child, the boy couldn't find a way to begin a book report about birds: "Just take it bird by bird." It's advice I turn to whenever I feel overwhelmed. What's the first thing to do? Do it. Then do the second. Then the third. Bird by bird. And don't let this book's focus on fiction writing distract you. Lawyers are as much in the business of storytelling as are fiction writers. Lamott's sections on plot, character development, setting and point of view all contain advice very useful in writing a statement of facts, making a presentation to a client or an adversary, or even presenting a case to a jury. Invariably, any problem worthy of your professional expertise puts you through a period when you have no idea how to solve the problem. Lamott writes eloquently of overcoming the demand for perfection that stands between you and the accomplishment you cannot possibly envision until you achieve it. I can think of few better books to help you through the monumental tasks that are likely to be on your list of New Year's resolutions.
Peter Friedman is a Visiting Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and Assistant Professor of Legal Analysis and Writing at Case Western Reserve University Law School. He blogs at Ruling Imagination: Law and Creativity.
Dick Bartlett Recommends:
To Kill a Mockingbird
The practice of law can be an overwhelming blur of long hours, short deadlines and little time to contemplate just what being a lawyer is all about. Thus, as the years pass and the idealism of law school fades, we begin to forget what drew us to the law. For a reminder, I prescribe Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prizewinning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (first published in 1960). This book is a one-volume course in qualities worthy of aspiration. In the novel, Atticus Finch, a small town attorney and legislator in the racially charged setting of 1930s Alabama, is faced with a series of daunting challenges that he meets with kindness, wisdom and a sharp legal mind. He sets an example for his two children-and indeed, for every one of us-of what it means to be a parent, a citizen and a lawyer, putting into practice his beliefs in fairness and justice for all in the face of physical and professional threats. Periodic doses of Mr. Finch are a way for all lawyers to remind themselves that moral courage and conviction continue to be an integral part of our profession. Rereading this book is a great way to start the year.
Dick Bartlett is a Senior Attorney with Applera Corporation at its headquarters in Norwalk, CT.
Diane Wyzga Recommends:
Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives
One day I opened the New York Times and saw a photograph of a soldier’s coffin being removed from the cargo hold of a commercial plane while the passengers looked out the backlit windows. The photograph compelled me to read the story behind that picture and others like it—which is stunningly conveyed in Jim Sheeler’s book Final Salute (Penguin Press, 2008). In 2006 Sheeler, a journalist, won a Pulitzer Prize for his article of the same title, and the book that evolved from it is indeed, as described on the book’s jacket, an “achingly beautiful, devastatingly honest story of the true toll of war.” Covering the effects of the war in Iraq on the people here at home, for two years Sheeler followed a Marine Corps officer charged with the terrible duty of casualty notification. Each time I picked up the book I was introduced to a family who told their story about the loss of a loved one. I was drawn into the very personal journeys of grief born of sacrifice. Marine officer Major Steve Beck was my guide—as he was for the families who heard that first knock on the door, heralding the dreadful news to come. Regardless of your views about the Iraq war, Final Salute begs you to pay attention to the heartbreaking and inspirational task of honoring the dead and getting on with the task of living without them. May you enter the New Year with gratitude for those who fight our wars and a renewed intention to seek peace in the world.
Diane F. Wyzga is an attorney, nurse and professionally trained storyteller. She helps lawyers develop their listening and persuasion skills, specializing in legal communications strategy, focus groups and trial preparation.
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Reading Minds invites sage professionals to recommend favorite books on a chosen topic. If you have a book you’d like to share, contact Stephanie West Allen.