Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Finding Comfort in Casebooks

There is something familiar and comfortable about a law school casebook. For starters, I know how to read them and get what I need from them. After spending three years in law school, the casebook-learning method becomes routine. Second, they are a contained universe. The casebook poses the question and usually presents the answer, or at least the key to discovering the answer. Third, similar to being a contained universe, the casebook is finite. I know that once I have read and digested all of the information in the book, I am prepared to handle any question covered by said book. Until another case comes along and overrules the law, of course. But even subsequent laws don't seem as daunting once the framework for learning the particular subject material is established. The point is that I know that after X-number of pages, and the requisite diligence, I will have gained understanding. Finally, given a good author, the casebook can actually be diverting to read. Whether it is a sassy bankruptcy scholar or a witty property professor, casebook-learning can be a source of entertainment. For me, the process of learning and digesting the law via a casebook feels natural and safe.

Life as a lawyer outside of the law school environment, whether practice or "real life," is not nearly so comfortable. There are decisions to make and there is not always a safety-net of scholarship upon which to rely. While others may have encountered similar anxieties and issues, I find a lack of scholarly consensus with respect to a situation to be a bit unnerving. There are problems without solutions, and as a sometimes overly-analytical mind, the "paralysis of analysis" can set in and be debilitating. Personally, I like to know that there are others - far wiser than I - who have worked through a problem and arrived at the "right" solution. I find that I often lack the confidence to determine my conclusions are fair, let alone right.

Perhaps part of my own transition from law student to lawyer involves trusting my instincts. In both the law and in my personal life, maybe I do have the skills I need to either: a) reach a reasonable conclusion, or b) know when and where to seek input on a particular matter. Maybe . . . For now, I find the ability to retreat into a casebook provides a measure of solace. For this, I am grateful.


Michael said...

When I started practicing (I was in Prof Reilly's first contracts class, I think), an attorney told me that it would take 5 years, more or less, before you feel like you aren't the stupidest person in the world. And he is one of the smartest, most confident guys I know. Another attorney told me that if I wasn't sure of an answer, to tell someone, well, the law used to be_____, but I need to take another look. If you were right, then you were right. If you were wrong, you get credit for knowing the law changed. I won't say that the practice of law gets easier, but in some ways you worry less because you realize sometimes there is no right answer, some problems are economically unfixable, there are tons of attorneys who really don't know as much as they think they do, and most of what is done can be undone or fixed later on. Also, sometimes you don't realize how much you know until you start talking about it. I'd imagine you are doing fine and aren't giving yourself enough credit. Anyway, good luck!

Michael said...

I meant to say stupidest person in the room, not the world.

Kelly J. Bozanic said...

Thanks, Michael! Wise words!