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Advance Your Legal Career: Read Books and Share What You Learn

Litigation Column
E xperts across all disciplines agree that reading books can contribute to a successful career. Books help develop comprehension skills, share problem-solving ideas, and relate thought-provoking and inspiring stories. Reading books can advance your legal career too, especially if you take advantage of techniques that facilitate a regular reading practice.

Read to develop your legal skills and for inspiration

For 15 years of his over 40-year career as a distinguished Kirkland & Ellis litigator, Steve McCormick managed the firm's internal training program for litigation associates. Kirkland charged Steve with giving their young lawyers an edge. To accomplish this, he built an outstanding program that culminates with the associates completing mock lawsuit before a live jury of actors. But the remarkable part of the program, and surprising to the firm's new associates every year, was that Steve taught the importance of reading books as a critical, career-enhancing activity.
As part of his training program each year, Steve picked a book covering a litigation topic and handed out copies. He encouraged each associate to read the book before the mock trial. That is, he asked each fresh out of law school associate to schedule time for billable hours, prepare for a mock trial, and read a litigation book.
Before the first mock trial day would start, Steve explained the importance of reading books to further a litigation career. He enthusiastically described how he learned the value of reading about great attorneys and trials from the late Irving Younger in the classic lecture "Ten Commandments of Cross Examination." Books supplement courtroom time by giving you lessons on the tips and tricks of the all-time best, like Cicero and Clarence Darrow. Such attorneys have wrestled with our most difficult problems, fought injustice, and made history. Simply put, regularly reading books can provide a foundation for winning cases.

Read to collect and share problem-solving ideas

When I was a Kirkland associate, I read Steve's book picks and heard his pitch. But the message did not fully sink in until later, when I was an in-house attorney preparing for a business development role. As I read Tim Sanders' book Love is the Killer App, I noticed how Tim preaches the same message as Steve about reading books to enhance your career. You can gain instant credibility by citing a lesson from book when proposing your own solution. And with a base of knowledge obtained from book reading, you have a broad assortment of problem-solving lessons to draw from and creatively develop.
Tim emphasizes how books enable you to share ideas with others. Consider these examples:  
Share with your client and legal team. Ideas from books can help you become a go-to problem solver for your legal team and client. Consider the value of this advice from Gerry Spence's book Win Your Case to an attorney for a small, underdog litigant: do not to fear objections, because "[w]hen the opposing lawyer has joined in the melee against us and piles on with more objections, the resulting match-up — the opposing lawyer and the judge against us — does not display a fair fight" to the jury.1 You can selectively use this tactic, prepare your team to respond to it, or cite Gerry's book to explain the tactic to your client when it is used.  
Share with your network. Ideas from books are a source of added value that you can provide your network of colleagues and supporters. For instance, I connected with a general counsel over the book The Airbnb Story. Because of issues he was wrestling with, he was intrigued in my retelling of Airbnb's lobbying approach and its crisis response to potential lawsuits from hosts with homes destroyed by guests. After our discussion, I gave him the book.
Now understanding a full range of the benefits, I read much more. I use a mix of book formats, finding it easy to share links to e-books and digital audiobooks. 

How to read books in your spare time

Harvard Business Review (HBR) also emphasizes the importance of reading books. For the past two years in February, HBR has published an article on how to read and absorb books quickly. Peter Bergman describes how he reads one book a week. Peter dissects books to extract the central idea:
• Learn about the author;
• Determine the gist of the book from the title, inside cover, and table of contents;
• Study the introduction and the conclusion;
• Skim the rest of the book, reading what is most interesting; and,
• Review the table of contents again, reread parts of the book as needed.
In the litigation world, not all books are suited to this surgical approach. When I was an associate, Steve had us read In the Interest of Justice: Great Opening and Closing Arguments of the Last 100 Years. This book is a cover-to-cover read for a litigator. But you can take it a chapter at a time, because each trial is a complete story. Instead of watching Netflix, you can tune-in to Johnnie Cochran's closing defense of O.J. Simpson.
Neil Pasricha, in his HBR article, describes his approach to reading at an annual rate of one book a week. He recommends getting into a regular practice of reading by having three to four books on hand ready to read so you do not hit a roadblock and can quit or take a break from reading any one book that loses your interest. Neil also recommends reading physical books and establishing a quiet, comfortable place for deep reading.

What to read

You can read a range of topics beyond litigation when you have a regular reading practice established. Variety helps you maintain interest. Steve's favorite topics include rhetoric, biographies of great lawyers, opening and closing arguments, and witness preparation and presentation.

Tim Sanders recommends these additional topics for lawyers: negotiation, behavioral science, and the relationship of politics to law. You can find good books in published book lists and automated recommendations from websites based on your purchases. My favorite books are often ones that friends recommend to me.


To help you start reading more, I asked Steve for book recommendations. He provided me some of his Kirkland book picks:
•   Attorney of the Damned by Clarence Darrow and Arthur Weinberg (Editor)
•   Murder Trials by Cicero
•   Ten Great American Trials: Lessons in Advocacy by Glenn C. Altschuler and Faust Rossi
•   The Trial Lawyers' Art by Sam Schrager
•   The Art of Cross Examination by Francis Wellman
We hope they inspire you and help move your career forward, so that one day the bar will be reading the story of your creativity and contribution to the law.

1 Gerry Spence, “Win Your Case” (2005) at 136.

About the Author

Noah WebsterNoah Webster serves in a general counsel role for the AtHoc division of BlackBerry, which provides networked crisis communication to government agencies and leading commercial enterprises worldwide. He cares for the company's general legal needs and is a trusted business advisor for AtHoc management. Noah has previously held roles at BlackBerry managing the global compliance program and leading the patent litigation team.

Noah thanks Steve McCormick of Kirkland and Ellis LLP in Chicago for sharing his passion for reading through his phenomenal training program, as well as providing his favorite books to include in this article.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.