Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law
by DOUGLAS O. LINDER and NANCY LEVIT (Oxford University Press, 2013)

The Good Lawyer

About The Good Lawyer


Introductory Note

The Good Lawyer is Courageous

The Good Lawyer is Empathetic

The Good Lawyer Has a Passion for Justice

The Good Lawyer Values Others in the Legal Community

The Good Lawyer Thinks realistically About the Future

The Good Lawyer Serves the True Interests of Clients

The Good Lawyer Has Ample Willpower

The Good Lawyer is Persuasive

Seeking Quality


Random Facts

The Happy Lawyer

Excerpt from Chapter 5:
The Good Lawyer Uses Both Intuition and Deliberative Thinking


            Are legal outcomes sufficiently predictable to allow experts to recognize patterns that can be the basis for solid judgments? To outsiders (and even some insiders), law seems like a crapshoot that depends on the luck of the jury pool, what your judge had for breakfast, the whims of a regulator, or the personality quirks of your legal adversary.  Most of us who have spent decades in law have a different take, however.  Although legal outcomes do often depend on many variables outside of a lawyer’s control, there is a distribution of probable outcomes for different situations that one can begin to recognize with enough time and practice.  Expert lawyers often—but not always—can see the familiar in a new situation and react appropriately.  A couple of decades in traffic court or drafting real estate contracts will give you an edge in heading off potential problems in those fields.  The skilled trial lawyer doesn’t stop to do the careful analysis that a student in Evidence class might do when she hears hearsay coming out of a witness’s mouth; the veteran litigator knows it is hearsay almost as soon as it is uttered.  The experienced family law lawyer can draw on patterns built over hundreds of hours with clients to intuitively respond appropriately to a client’s deep concerns—she knows when to soothe, when to warn, and when to focus attention on the problem at hand.  Law does not have the regular environment of a chess game, but neither is it as random as the world of stock picking.  If all else is equal, put your money on the experienced lawyer. 

            Experience is the one big thing we have going for us as we age.  In our twenties, our brain cells started dying off, our short-term memory began to worsen, and our mental processing began to slow.  But as the years pass, our experience helps us become better at recognizing patterns.  As Elkhonon Goldberg observes in The Wisdom Paradox, “What I have lost with age in my capacity for hard mental work, I seemed to have gained in my capacity for instantaneous, almost unfairly easy insight.”  Of course, what brings wisdom is having the right type of experiences, not just getting older.  Tom Wilson notes, “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age.  Sometimes old age shows up all by itself.”  But if we play our cards right, according to Goldberg, we accumulate “numerous and generic” patterns that “facilitate an effortless and instantaneous solution of a wide range of important problems.”  Expert pattern recognition, a product of ever growing chunks of networked information stored in memory, is not an entitlement for getting older, but rather has “to be earned.”

            Research by Goldberg and others has shown that the right hemisphere of the brain, the center for creative thinking and novel solutions, degrades earlier and more rapidly in life than the left hemisphere, where most of our pattern recognition takes place.  Youth is the period for novelty, daring, and overflowing creativity.  It is the right brain’s time.  Gradually, as we age, the period of right brain dominance ends and the period of left brain dominance begins—or, as Goldberg describes the trend, our “center of mental gravity shifts” to the left, and less-impaired, hemisphere. Neuroimaging allows us to peer into brains and see neural firing patterns that confirm that a novice, when asked to perform a task, will show primarily right-brain activations while a skilled professional, when asked to do the same task, will show primarily left-brain activation.  None of this may compensate for hair loss, declining virility, and reduced ability to speed around a tennis court, but it’s what we’ve got to look forward to....