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Good Books Worth Reading

February 2, 2021

I had always read widely, especially in biographies, history and business management.  But what I now began to devour were books having to do specifically or even tangentially with the practice of law.  In time I would develop the habit of reading trial advocacy books for half an hour to an hour each day, early in the morning before I went to work.

This reading inspired me with a flood of new ideas that I could apply to all my cases. Perhaps more than any other thing, this deep and consistent wide reading has made all the difference in my experience of practicing law.

Since I have been asked to specifically review some of the books I have read (and re-read), I here mention a few that have made the biggest difference, segregated by categories.  Books on

Advocacy

Damages 3, by David Ball

This is an absolute must read and re-read for anyone handling personal injury claims.  For a period of about two years, I re-read significant portions of the earlier versions of the book before each trial, and used each new trial as a laboratory of how to improve everything from voir dire to closing arguments.

Rules of the Road, by Rick Friedman and Patrick Malone

In a medical malpractice case, I studied this book intensely and then applied in specifically to the cross examination of the defendant’s nurse.  I spent 14 hours preparing for a cross exam that lasted just 14 minutes.  The nurse admitted to all our “rules” and the defendant’s case was essentially over at the end of the cross examination. It is also a “must read” for any attorney doing injury cases.

Reptile, by Don Keenan and David Ball

Poorly written and horribly edited, if one can stomach the dangling sentences that seem to have been put together by an egg beater, it is a treasure of truth and deserves a careful reading and continuous re-reading.  I just can’t understand why thoughts so brilliant were slopped together in a book so poorly written.

Keenan Edge 1 & 2, by Don Keenan

These two books are Keenan at his best in thought, with the same poor grammar and lack of editing care that shows up in the Reptile.  But the book is filled with wisdom and original thinking.

Now What Makes Juries Listen, by Sonya Hamlin

Hamlin was the thought leader in communications for 25 years and has distilled her best communications tips in this book.  Well written and carefully edited, it is a must for anyone trying any type of case, civil or criminal, plaintiff or defense.  It seems to have a slight institutional basis, tilted more to the prosecution in criminal cases and to the defense in civil cases.  There is a whole world of communications techniques to be minded in this book.

McElhaney’s Trial Notebook, by James McElhaney

McElhaney writes with vigor and spunk and offers in each chapter the wisdom of a Solomon.  As McElhaney retired, someone asked him where his ideas came from, since he has never been an actively practicing trial lawyer.  He replied that it all came “from the noggin.”  He captivates the reader by placing each chapter in the setting of fictitious attorneys and law professors analyzing what went right or wrong in a given situation.  The book has been through numerous editions, each one improving in most ways on the previous edition.

Recovering for Psychological Injuries, by Bill Barton

This excellent book is written by our own legal legend, Bill Barton, except for a few chapters that he asked others to contribute in writing.  It is an excellent book even for those who don’t think they handle psychological injury cases, since all injuries have psychological components that we might miss without having read the book.

Twelve Heroes, One Voice, by Carl Bettinger

After Bettinger got two verdicts in conservative venues for over $50,000,000, he wrote this book to help explain these verdicts.  He encourages the study of psychodrama and improvisational theatre to bring life to the courtroom.  If psychodrama and improvisational theatre are not your thing, he also reveals just how far really caring about our clients will take us in our cases.  A short book, it is a compelling read.

Winning Medical Malpractice Cases with Rules of the Road Technique, by Patrick Malone

Malone, who wrote Rules of the Road with Rick Friedman, ventures in this book to show how the Rules principles can be specifically applied to medical malpractice cases.  Malone makes frequent use of actual trial transcripts to show how well formulated rules can make all the difference in a medical case.

Talk Like TED, by Carmine Gallo

In this book Gallo has distilled those principles that make TED talks so compelling.  The principles he has identified can help any attorney prepare an effective opening statement or closing argument.  It is extremely well written and is a pleasure to read.

The Art of Public Speaking, by Dale Carnegie and Joseph Berg Esenwein

Written in 1910, this book continues to be published.  In it Carnegie identifies the most common mistake that most speaker make (trying to cover too much material and not speaking from personal experience), and he identifies what it is the makes a speech sparkle and come alive.

HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, by Bryan A Garner

Although this book is not written specifically for attorneys, it is extremely helpful to any attorney who ever writes a brief or an opening or closing argument.  He invokes the “MACJ” steps of business writing: “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, and Judge.”  Though it has been several years since I read his book, I use the principles every time I prepare a speech or write a brief.  In fact, I used what he taught in writing this article.

Books on Business

 In Search of Excellence, by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.

I read this book in the early 80s, soon after it had become an international best seller.  Though some of the companies identified in the book have since fallen from business glory, the principles Peters and Waterman identified are still as true today as they were four decades ago.  Two of the most useful principles I have used over and over again from this book is to “stick to the knitting” (meaning find a core competency and constantly improve within that area rather than diversifying too much and losing your edge) and always be reliable (Frito Lay consistently delivered fresh chips when its competitors did not.

The Effective Executive, by Peter F. Drucker

If there is one book that will increase an attorney’s effective use of time, this is that book.  The mantra that he repeats over and over again is to “feed the opportunities and starve the problems.”  This book is worth re-reading more than once.

Good to Great, by Jim Collins

Collins identifies those very few companies that went from being excellent to truly becoming great.  One of the keys is to be the “hedgehog” and not the “fox,” referring to Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay.  Collins points out that great companies have developed their core competencies and have remained in that niche.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey

This blockbuster international best seller has been translated into about 70 different languages and continues to guide organizations large and small in developing those habits that are universal to all successful people and businesses.  He talks of the P/PC balance (the balance between production and production capacity), and also observes the four quadrants and how we often slip into doing the urgent rather than the truly important.

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

This book is now the darling of much continuing legal education. (At its 2015 Annual Convention in Montreal, AAJ devoted an entire day to Kahneman’s observations in its “Advocacy Track” seminar.  It is not an easy read, or a short one, but it is well worth the study, since Kahneman identifies a host of thinking errors that we make and are not even aware that we are making them.

Words That Work, by Frank I. Luntz

Luntz has been a conservative political genius for the past 25 years, and has coined a number of the words that have made their way into our national political discourse.  What this book reveals is that just a few key words properly selected can make all the difference in the outcome of a debate.  What I have learned from the book is to embed a half dozen or so carefully chosen key words into a trial and soon the discourse will revolve around those words. Who would have thought that just a few nuggets of right words can make all the difference in the outcome?

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

First published in 1936, this book has sold more than 15 million copies and continues to be a best seller.  This book changed my life in high school and continues to teach me today.  I have re-read it multiple times.  What intrigues me is not only what he teaches but how.  The whole book can be reduced to a few chosen maxims that could be read in 10 minutes.  But Carnegie teaches by story – story after story after story.  Well before business realized that story was the way to go, Carnegie already knew.

 Books on Visual Presentations

Resonate, by Nancy Duarte

Duarte has designed PowerPoint background slides for Microsoft and consults with Fortune 500 companies.  When Bono gave his famous TED talk on hope in fighting poverty, he asked Nancy Duarte to prepare his slide deck.  Duarte identifies that every great speech comes down to a contrast between what is and what could be.  She also admonishes us to “murder our darlings,” meaning to get rid of those elements of our speech (or case) that don’t contribute, no matter how hard we have worked on them and come to love these darlings.

HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, by Nancy Duarte

Here Duarte repeats in a shorter version much of what she identified in Resonate as the elements of any effective presentation.

Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds and Presentation Zen Design, by Garr Reynolds

In these companion books, Reynolds identifies from the Zen arts what makes for effective presentation and design (simplicity and restraint).  No one can read his work, and that of Duarte, without flinching at the almost constant misuse of PowerPoint in all kinds of settings.

Show the Story: the Power of Visual Advocacy, by William S. Bailey & Robert W. Bailey

Written by plaintiff attorneys for plaintiff attorneys, this book shows just how effective visual presentations can be in the courtroom (and in mediations).  It is an easy read that applies a lot of examples from actual trials.  A must read!

Beyond Bullet Points, by Cliff Atkinson

Atkinson was the visual guru to Texas attorney Mark Lanier, who obtained a $250 million verdict against Vioxx some years ago.  Atkinson explains how the PowerPoint presentation was created and used.  This book, plus pure boredom of many audiences subjected to “death by bullet point” was the beginning of the end of the use of bullet points in PowerPoint presentations.  Sadly, few attorneys have read the book, and I continue to see the same PowerPoint errors committed over and over again by CLE speakers, even of national reputations.

Clear and to the Point, by Stephen M. Kosslyn

Written by a Harvard professor, the book makes its points and is clear, but is also dreadfully dull.  Kosslyn tries to teach too much by precept and too little by stories and examples.  The result is a humorless tomb.  But it still makes vital points in regard to visual presentations.

Books on Storytelling

The Art of Public Speaking, by John R. Hale [audiobook]

I listened and re-listened to this as an audiobook (I don’t know if it is available in hard copy).  An archeologist by training, Hale is a vivid storyteller.  What is more, he teaches storytelling by telling stories of great speech makers from the past.  He is a refreshing lecturer, who in the course of his stories brings out what makes for a good public address.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip & Dan Heath

This is a must read for any attorney.  The Heath brothers come up with a simple formula for what makes any written or spoken concept “stick.”  To stick, the concept must be presented as a Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Story (SUCCESs).

The Art of Storytelling, by Les Brown, Patricia Fripp, and Doug Stevenson [audiobook]

In this audiobook the three authors explain what makes for effective storytelling.  If you can get over the first speakers extreme narcissism and self-promotion, the rest of the audiobook is excellent.

TED Talk Secrets, by Jacob Andrews [audiobook]

This short audiobook encapsulates some principles that seem to apply to all TED talks.

Business Storytelling for Dummies, by Karen Dietz and Lori L. Silverman [audiobook]

The first half of this book is very helpful; the second half enormously dull. Its mantra is to invoke the “language of the senses” (LOTS).  In all storytelling, try to involve as many of the listener’s senses as possible.

Stand and Deliver, by the Dale Carnegie Organization [audiobook]

A short audiobook, it gives some very helpful pointers on how to improve any type of public speaking. Its principles apply wonderfully to any part of a presentation to a jury.

Brain Rules, by John Medina

A must read! Medina delivers 10 important rules that govern the functions of our brains. These rules include exercise, sleep, music, sensory integration and vision.  He reminds us that any presentation needs to have some change of pace or something new and different about every 10 minutes. This is golden information as we structure how to present evidence to juries in ways that are engaging, entertaining and memorable.

A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink

Pink documents that the logical analysis of the left brain will not deliver the whole package and that the emotional aspects of the right brain have to be tapped into for our presentations to make a compelling case that will move people to act.

Biographies and Histories

History of the Second World War, by Winston S. Churchill

Whether enjoyed as history or as a model of some of the finest writing one will ever encounter in the English language, Churchill’s six volume history of World War II is a must read. His reliance upon the thousands of wartime memos he made of his many meetings with his cabinet and other wartime leaders helped me understand as a young attorney how important it is to faithfully document each thing I do in a client’s behalf.

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin

Franklin’s delightful autobiography, written when he was in his 70s, thrills me each time I re-read it.  His insights into human nature and the rewards of diligence will inspire any person in business to be more diligent and to be more giving of his time.  No one’s education is complete without having read this great man’s history of his role in the founding of the United States.

Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X

Time Magazine rated this book one of the best books ever written in the 20th century.  As an illiterate and rebellious young man, Malcolm was sent to prison for his crimes. There he learned to read and write, being so transformed by the new world that opened to him that he regretted his prison time was too short to have read all he wanted to read. When people later asked him where he had gone to college, he replied that he had gone to the University of Books.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

Any biography written by Isaacson is worth reading, this one in particular.  Learn from this book how Jobs learned to focus on just a few key products and develop them really well, rather than trying to develop too many products and doing them second-rate.  By such laser focus Jobs was able to revolutionize personal computers, the way we listen to music, and the way we access books.  I enjoyed the book so much that as soon as I finished it, I immediately re-read it.

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