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For the Sake of Argument: A Life in the Law

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    An Instant Classic

    For the Sake of Argument reads like an update on Scott Turow's classic One-L. It covers a lot more ground (with much less detail, which I think is a good thing, but that's just me) and has a much different perspective. Jacobsen begins the story before he applies to law school, then continues it through 20-something years of practice in a variety of settings.

    The book is very funny in places, and rarely fails to be insightful in unexpected ways. For instance, it had never occurred to me before that part of what law school so disorienting (I'm a lawyer) is that the students are there for trade school while the professors mainly want to be taken seriously as scholars. But, as the author writes, the practical knowledge the students want isn't of academic interest, and vice versa. It's a real disconnect.

    I wish I had read this book when I was starting out my career. There's a lot about the false starts in his career, beginning at a corporate law firm, then scraping along with a start-up firm taking whatever work comes in the door, before the author winds up as a prosecutor, thinking he would be helping people - only to learn that judges treat him as the oppressor rather than as the champion of the victimized.

    Above all he captures the pervading frustration of a lawyer's career, that so much of what you do can be nullified by others, and the others (such as judges, but also clients, etc.) aren't always either competent or honest. As he says, you can only learn (or try to learn) not to let it eat at you. I'm still trying to learn.

    But I don't want to give the impression that the author is complaining. Mostly he's funny, in an ironic, dry sort of way. I particularly liked his catalogue of types of bad judges, which probably won't win him any popularity contests in his home town. But I bet most lawyers would agree they've met most of the judges he describes. I know I have.

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