Main

Book Review Archives

May 10, 2012

Reading Your Way to Stellar Legal Writing - A Review of “Building Your Best Argument”

by Cecil C. Kuhne III
Reviewed by Nicholas Clyde Mills

In overtime at the 1997 NCAA tournament, Iowa Hawkeye wrestler Lincoln McIlravy won his third national championship. I was a high school wrestler at the time and I watched and studied college wrestlers to improve my skills. Lincoln had a wrestling move that I attempted to emulate. In the move – an arm drag for those familiar with the vernacular – Lincoln would pull on his opponent’s arm, causing him to be unbalanced. Lincoln would then trip his opponent and move behind to score a takedown. Lincoln used this move to win that 1997 NCAA national championship. I recorded and watched this technique repeatedly, drilled it in the wrestling room, and ended up winning some matches of my own with it.

Cecil C. Kuhne argues that an attorney could gain legal writing skills in much the same way. The thesis of his book, Building Your Best Argument, is that by reading and examining the best legal briefs in the country, an attorney can develop greater writing skills. To illustrate how to accomplish this task, Kuhne discusses thirteen common components required of an outstanding pleading and draws from briefs produced by the Solicitor General’s office to highlight each point. Kuhne does a good job of guiding attorneys towards better writing. While Kuhne points out that there are “no magic bullets or secret formulas” to legal argument, this book will help most writers improve their skill set. See Cecil C. Kuhne III, Building Your Best Argument vi (ABA Publishing) (2010).

Kuhne’s first chapter is a basic introduction advocating sound principles for legal writing. Thereafter, Kuhne’s chapters start with a page or two of introductory material on a specific topic, followed by several examples from the Solicitor General briefs. Because he wants to focus only on the writing skills, Kuhne has removed the citations from the briefs and includes only the relevant excerpts. This allows the reader to focus solely on the principles taught and not get distracted – or bored – by a string of citations following every sentence. It makes the book much easier to read and digest quickly. The chapters are well titled, with each title containing a helpful mental cue to remind the reader of the chapter’s content. For example, chapter seven is entitled “History of the Case: The Devil is in the Details” and chapter thirteen is entitled, “Obsessive-Compulsive: Organization is Key.” After reading the chapter the vivid title stimulates the thought process much more than, “Case History” and “Headings for Your Brief” would have. The book’s pattern makes it useful as a writing tool, because it facilitates easy review of each topic.

The best part of the book is the strength of Kuhne’s writing. Chapter after chapter, I was left wanting to hear more of Kuhne’s simple, but powerful pieces of advice. One of my favorites was, “[The judge] is reading not to be entertained, but to make a decision, and he rightfully expects the document before him to assist in that weighty task.” Id. at 51. Kuhne’s writing has neither footnotes nor citations. This approach gives Kuhne’s writing an “insider information” feel. Each chapter reads like a patient senior partner giving sage advice to a young associate. Kuhne writes in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. His words are profound.

Kuhne has also selected some amazing examples to include in his book. While selecting good legal writing examples from the Solicitor General briefs is somewhat akin to selecting a prom date from the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the examples were really top-shelf. Each chapter had examples from several legal subjects. For example, chapter six has a constitutional, property, tax, and criminal law example. Occasionally, I found a particular example was difficult to understand. But because each section had four examples, I was always able to find one or two in each chapter that were familiar and easy to follow.

This book has some great practical advice coupled with really good examples. While useful to any lawyer seeking greater writing skills, this book will probably be most helpful to the young attorney. If you occasionally sit down to write and think, “Where should I start this section?” or “What should this look like?” Kuhne’s book should be on your shelf. Because the advice is just one or two pages and each example is only a handful of pages, a lawyer can quickly read the parts addressing the skills they are struggling with and be given several great examples.

Building Your Best Argument has several minor shortcomings. First, the book’s advice is probably simplistic for a seasoned attorney. Second, Building Your Best Argument doesn’t have much instructional material. I was often left wondering, “Why should we do it that way?” Kuhne could have rectified this by providing a little more how-to information in some of the chapters. For example, chapter four dealt with the importance of an overview and Kuhne’s introductory notes had some great content about the importance of “memorable lines” in a brief. See id. at 27. But he never developed nor explained how to create memorable lines. I realize that Kuhne’s goal was to merely provide short summaries and great examples, and he delivered on that. But a book entitled Building Your Best Argument implies that the how-to will be provided. Perhaps a better title would have been “Examples of Great Arguments.” Finally, and perhaps, most disappointing is the fact that Kuhne writes only about twenty-five pages of the entire book. This is unfortunate because all the counsel he gave was solid-gold. It was thoughtful and valuable. Kuhne’s abilities and advice deserve to be showcased in a more exhaustive manner.

I thought this book was a good read. It is relatively short – only 265 pages – and it read very quickly. Kuhne did exactly what he set out to do. But if you are really interested in developing the quality of your briefs, I suggest that Building Your Best Argument is not the first book you purchase. The book is expensive – $69.95 – for what you get. Instead, you should first buy and read Bryan A. Garner’s The Winning Brief. I suggest this for two reasons. First, Kuhne seems to be a Bryan Garner disciple of plain language. Kuhne writes in his first chapter, “Straight forward language is therefore preferred over the more pretentious and vague rhetoric.” Id. at 5. And, “So-Called legalese is far less persuasive than straight forward and unadorned language.” Id. Reading The Winning Brief will help explain the premise of Kuhne’s suggestions. Second, The Winning Brief is more informative and is written in a way that allows for greater skill development. After you have read The Winning Brief, then buy Building Your Best Argument. It will be a great supplement and will be much more useful when you have Garner’s solid foundation to build upon.

This book is published and sold by the ABA. If you do not want to purchase the book the law libraries at both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University have copies. Next time you develop writer’s block, pick up Building Your Best Argument. Kuhne’s simple profound advice and the Solicitor General’s stellar examples will stimulate your writing and give you something to emulate.

March 6, 2012

Book Review

The How to Win Trial Manual, Winning Trial Advocacy in a Nutshell, 5th Ed.

by Ralph Fine

Reviewed by Andrea Garland


The best advice is “practice, practice, practice,” which is also Judge Ralph Fine’s advice for mastering the art of trial advocacy. Judge Fine, on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals since 1988, served as a judge on the Wisconsin circuit court from 1979 to 1988. This book provides great how-to instruction coupled with relevant, interesting examples from well-known trials. Judge Fine includes authentic trial transcripts with commentary on what the lawyers did right and wrong. It is a useful book for any trial lawyer.

Continue reading "Book Review" »

May 12, 2011

The Dark Side of The Bluebook

by Cathy Roberts

Usually a book reviewer reads a book from cover to cover, even if it’s bad. This is a review of a review of a book that I guarantee I will never read entirely.


As law students learn, The Bluebook is an essential reference book for legal citation. Its prestigious sponsors (the Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Pennsylvania law reviews), its heft, and its “first mover” advantage in its field, have made it the repository of the correct way of referencing every source of knowledge a lawyer might need since 1926. But I suspect there are numerous dust-covered copies of The Bluebook staring at attorneys from the shelf with cold disdain, as mine does, knowing that without its help we will misplace a period, use a period instead of a comma, or, heaven forbid, italicize rather than underline. Now, there is a new edition: The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation 107 (19th ed. 2010). The 16th edition was long, at 255 pages. The 19th edition is over 500 pages long.

Continue reading "The Dark Side of The Bluebook" »

March 25, 2011

Legal Beagles: Danny’s Yo-Yo Adventure

by Micheline Keller and Patricia HerskovicIllustrated by Ronald Lipking

Reviewed by Gwendolyn Afton Orme

Editor’s note: The Utah Bar Journal does not ordinarily review children’s books. But then, children’s books rarely, in the words of the publisher, “explore legal tenets, morals, and ethics.” Danny’s Yo-Yo Adventure is the first installment in an intended series entitled Legal Beagles. Book reviews appearing in the Utah Bar Journal are typically written by members of the Utah State Bar. An exception seemed appropriate in this case.

Continue reading "Legal Beagles: Danny’s Yo-Yo Adventure" »

November 2, 2010

The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction

by Michael Melcher

Reviewed by Teresa L. Welch

If you are faced with the Godzilla of work, don’t battle it alone. Enlist Rodan to even out the contest.

Michael Melcher, The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction, 30 (2007).

If you have ever asked yourself whatever possessed you to become an attorney, I recommend Michael Melcher’s book, The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction. Whether you are just starting out, or you need to reenergize a lackluster career, this book, released in 2007, contains timely advice. Now that the limping economy has resulted in increased case loads and slashed salaries for attorneys, your personal and work satisfaction are more important than ever. Melcher’s book provides inspiring ideas and practical exercises for attorneys to help us achieve these goals. Melcher states that if we spend twenty minutes a day reflecting on our career, as opposed to in our career, we can achieve authentic professional satisfaction.

Continue reading "The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction" »

September 13, 2010

Technology: Friend or Foe of the Modern Lawyer?

A Book Review of “The End of Lawyers?”

by Dr. Richard Susskind

Reviewed by Jason S. Wilcox and Aaron S. Bartholomew

In his book, The End of Lawyers?, Dr. Richard Susskind argues that emerging technologies pressure the standard law firm economic model that has historically meant prosperity for the profession. Although some lawyers continue to succeed, there is an ever-increasing number of lawyers without work or who are leaving the profession entirely, sometimes before a legal career begins. In the last several years lawyers have experienced unprecedented change in the profession. We read the doomsday news of law firms across the country cutting thousands of attorney positions, large numbers of lay-offs in Big Law, and the lowest 3L hiring rate in a generation.

Continue reading "Technology: Friend or Foe of the Modern Lawyer?" »

Utah Auto Law: Utah Law of Motor Vehicle Insurance and Accident Liability

by Randall Bunnell

Reviewed by John F. Fay

Recently Randy Bunnell published a book. But after you read it, you won’t call it a book; you will call it the Utah auto law bible. Jurists statewide will nickname it The Judge’s Bench Book. To say the text is comprehensive is modest. The topics range from the commonplace to the rare and sometimes once-in-a-career factual situations. The book is a must for auto plaintiff and defense attorneys, as well as auto claims adjusters.

Continue reading "Utah Auto Law: Utah Law of Motor Vehicle Insurance and Accident Liability" »

May 13, 2010

The Guantánamo Lawyers

Edited by Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz

Reviewed by John West

The measure of a country is how it acts in time of peril

– Brigadier General David M. Brahms

Continue reading "The Guantánamo Lawyers" »

January 13, 2010

Samurai Lawyer

by Harold G. Christensen

Reviewed by Cathy Roberts

In his book Samurai Lawyer, Harold G. Christensen describes a colleague who paced the hall of the courthouse, smoking one cigarette after another while the jury deliberated. Every time this attorney walked out of the courtroom after a trial, whether he had won or lost, he said he felt as if he had left a part of himself at the counsel table. “He died at a young age without realizing he was trying to do the work of the jury,” Christensen writes.

Continue reading "Samurai Lawyer" »

January 14, 2009

Cultural Issues in Criminal Defense – 2nd Edition

Cultural Issues in Criminal Defense – 2nd Edition
Linda Friedman Ramirez, Editor
Reviewed by Lori J. Seppi

Consider this scenario depicting an open-and-shut case that plays daily in courts across our country:

The suspect is charged with a crime. He is arrested, waives his Miranda rights, and confesses. Later, after meeting with his attorney and discussing his case, the suspect enters a guilty plea to reduced charges. Thereafter, he is sentenced to a year in jail and placed on probation.
Now, consider the same scenario with one fact added – the suspect recently emigrated from Mexico.

Continue reading "Cultural Issues in Criminal Defense – 2nd Edition" »

September 25, 2008

Book Review: Convictions: A Prosecutor’s Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves

Convictions: A Prosecutor’s Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves

by John Kroger

Reviewed by Ralph Dellapiana

I am going to start this review with a disclaimer. I am biased, particularly against prosecutors. I am a public defender, and through years of trench warfare I have wounds enough to have learned to have a healthy skepticism about the difficulty of getting “justice” in the criminal justice system. And I blame a lot of the problems on prosecutors. More than one prosecutor has told me he or she can’t do the right thing, or doesn’t care if my client is innocent, or if the police are lying to make a bad arrest stick.

Continue reading "Book Review: Convictions: A Prosecutor’s Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves" »

Book Review: How to Build and Manage an Estates Practice, Second Edition

How to Build and Manage an Estates Practice, Second Edition

by Daniel B. Evans, Esq.

Reviewed by Nathan C. Croxford and Andrew L. Howell

If his most recent publication, How to Build and Manage an Estates Practice, is any indication, author Daniel B. Evans must have been a master issue-spotter in law school. In just 205 pages, inclusive of appendices and index, Evans manages to identify and discuss, in clean, economical, and very readable prose, nearly every conceivable issue, problem, or challenge that an attorney might encounter in building and maintaining an estates practice. Coverage ranges from client-generation in the Internet age, to ethical considerations in modern estates practice, to office technology and automation, innovative client communications and billing practices, and more.

Continue reading "Book Review: How to Build and Manage an Estates Practice, Second Edition" »

July 16, 2008

No One Makes It Alone

No One Makes It Alone

by Andrew A. Valdez

Reviewed by J. Simón Cantarero

No One Makes It Alone (2006) was written by Andrew A. Valdez. Many readers will recognize the author as Judge Valdez of the Third District Juvenile Court. This book is Judge Valdez’s first book and is an autobiographical story about a critical time in his youth. While the book may not win any awards for being a literary masterpiece, it should be required reading for practicing lawyers to remind them of the importance of having and being a mentor, not only for their chosen profession but for life. The book is worth at least 3 CLEs.

Continue reading "No One Makes It Alone" »

With Hope Across America A Father-Daughter Journey

With Hope Across America
A Father-Daughter Journey

by Bob Braithwaite

Reviewed by Cathy Roberts

Good books should make you want to get up and do something: eat a delicious meal, fall in love, or even travel with your not-so-small child through 37 states across America.
This book creates that desire to hit the road. Written by Bob Braithwaite, part-time U.S. magistrate, and former district court judge from Cedar City, it has little to do with the law, and everything to do with being a parent, and a child. Not that it is a parenting guide, mind you; rather, it is a guidebook to seeing the United States in a truck accompanied by a willing but skeptical family member.

Continue reading "With Hope Across America A Father-Daughter Journey" »

March 31, 2008

Blind Justice? A Review of Missing Witness

Blind Justice? A Review of Missing Witness

by Gordon Campbell

Reviewed by Betsy Burton

In theory, justice must be blind if it is to be fair; the same may be said of book reviews. If a critic is for some reason prejudiced for or against a book, the resultant review is likely to be biased. That being said, it is best to warn readers at the outset that this review is as far from blind as a review can be since (1) I’m not a critic but a bookseller, (2) I know and like Gordon Campbell, and (3) I feel about Missing Witness like a mother hen might feel about her favorite chick. The good news is that therein lies a tale (although not one I’m going to tell in this review). The bad news is you’re unlikely to hear snide comments, plot quibbles, or literary character assassination from this source – although in fairness there are few reviews in this town or across the nation other than that in the Deseret News (a subject that I suspect had more to do with religion than reality) that were anything but wholly positive.

Continue reading "Blind Justice? A Review of Missing Witness" »

Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts, Second Edition

Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts, Second Edition

Edited by Robert L. Haig

Reviewed by Michael D. Zimmerman

Commercial litigation is a vast arena. In the course of practice, one is constantly confronted with new issues, often legal but perhaps more often practical. The many tactical and strategic questions that arise are every bit as subtle as any the courts address, and the answers appropriate to a particular situation are far less certain because of the varying and complex factual contexts in which they are encountered. An experienced litigator will have plumbed the depths of a number of substantive areas and will have addressed many practical problems of litigation tactics and strategy. However, no matter how sage, any such lawyer will find this eight volume treatise invaluable for its scope and depth, and for its down to earth practicality.

Continue reading "Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts, Second Edition" »

January 1, 2008

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
by Timothy Ferriss

Reviewed by Bentley J. Tolk

Can lawyers reduce their working time to four hours per week? Probably not. Can lawyers dramatically reduce the number of hours they work? The 4-Hour Workweek, a New York Times bestselling book, suggests that they can.

Timothy Ferriss, the book’s author, is a Princeton graduate who began his career working 12-hour days for a start-up company. After getting burned out and discouraged with the corporate world, Ferriss started his own dietary supplement company through $5000 in credit card debt and lots of outsourcing. Although his supplement company became successful relatively quickly, Ferriss found that he was working 12-hour days seven days a week as a result. He subsequently decided to simplify his role with the company and to make himself “expendable.” Thus, Ferriss bought a one-way plane ticket to Europe, where he began operating his supplement company through one hour of e-mails each Monday morning. Astonishingly, the company’s profits increased by 40% as Ferriss lessened his hands-on role in operating the company.

Continue reading "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich" »

Law & Mental Health Professionals – Utah

Law & Mental Health Professionals – Utah
by Leslie Pickering Francis and Linda F. Smith

Reviewed by Judge Judith S. H. Atherton

Providers of mental health services (MHPs) are affected by the law in numerous ways. Not only does the law govern their credentialing, licensing, business practice, and personal liability but also, and, importantly, it dictates their direct participation in the administration of the legal system. MHPs increasingly are called upon to provide expert opinions and testimony on subjects ranging from an individual’s competency to participate in court proceedings, marry, enter a contract, vote, sign a will, or testify in court about that person’s mental status, amenability to treatment and even the likelihood of effectively responding to a prescribed medication treatment regimen to restore competence. Lawyers and MHPs do not necessarily speak the same language, but they must interact on a regular basis. Law & Mental Health Professionals – Utah seeks to be a comprehensive and accurate review and integration of all the law that affects MHPs in Utah. This book is the latest in a series of similar state volumes published by the American Psychological Association, which has a stated goal of having such a book for each state and federal jurisdiction and for the District of Columbia. It is, then, a handbook, written primarily for the MHP, in language readily understood by non-lawyers, but it is also a valuable resource for the law-trained. It is meant to provide an accurate statement of the existing law only and offers neither critique nor commentary on the law’s substance.

Continue reading "Law & Mental Health Professionals – Utah" »

November 2, 2007

The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

The Ministry of Special Cases
by Nathan Englander

Reviewed by Betsy Ross

Set during Argentina’s Dirty War of the 1970s and 1980s, The Ministry of Special Cases captures a society in which passivity is paramount and truth is what the government says it is. Thus, when the government kidnaps suspected dissidents (or unsuspected innocents, as appears to be the case with the book’s character Pato), and denies it has done so, the Patos of society are spoken of as being “disappeared,” and a lie becomes truth – as if the disappeared never existed at all.

Continue reading "The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander" »

September 1, 2007

Later in Life Lawyers: Tips for the Non-Traditional Law Student

Later in Life Lawyers: Tips for the Non-Traditional Law Student
by Charles Cooper
Reviewed by Catherine E. Roberts

Having lived this book, I wish had read it before I went to law school at age 41. Linked to a website known as www.nontradlaw.com, it is filled with useful information about who chooses to go to law school, why they do it, how they get in, and how to succeed once admitted. It recommends study techniques and contains comments from many people in different situations – from the older, married students with past careers, to the ones who are “non-traditional” because they took a few years off between college and law school but are still in their early twenties. The book takes advantage of recent commentary from current law students, quoting directly from lengthy emails.

Continue reading "Later in Life Lawyers: Tips for the Non-Traditional Law Student" »

July 1, 2007

Thunder Over Zion: The Life of Chief Judge Willis W. Ritter by Parker Nielson and Patricia Cowley

Thunder Over Zion: The Life of Chief Judge Willis W. Ritter
by Parker Nielson and Patricia Cowley
Reviewed by Todd Zagorec

A friend gave me a copy of Thunder Over Zion: The Life of Chief Judge Willis W. Ritter by Parker Nielson and Patricia Cowley. I knew almost nothing about Judge Ritter, and only an odd memory from high school kept the book from joining the dusty stack I really intend to read someday, but didn’t actually pick out for myself. I remembered Willis Ritter as the crotchety old judge who declared the Salt Lake City parking ordinance unconstitutional and ordered Jake Garn to stop writing parking tickets. I like eccentrics, and that was enough to get me to open the book. I was surprised. There are plenty of sidebars about the quirky, grouchy judge, but there is also real drama in the flawed brilliance that made Ritter’s life a Greek tragedy set against the law, politics, and personalities of Utah in the 20th century.

Continue reading "Thunder Over Zion: The Life of Chief Judge Willis W. Ritter by Parker Nielson and Patricia Cowley" »

April 27, 2007

Sundance 2007

Sundance 2007
by Betsy Ross

Each year I am reminded of how fortunate we are to have the Sundance Film Festival right here in our midst. And I’m not talking about star-gazing. I’m talking about the chance we have to be educated with a minimum of cost, and a modicum of hassle. Many of the films show in Salt Lake City, where one can escape the frenzy of Park City, and just settle in to a cozy theater (showings at the Tower, the Broadway, and Rose Wagner theaters) and watch a film. But not just any film. These are films that can change your heart, your mind, your orientation towards life. This year was no different.

Continue reading "Sundance 2007" »

August 7, 2006

Saviors by Paul Eggers

Saviors
by Paul Eggers

Reviewed by Betsy Ross

I find myself waking up these days to a kind of hazy depression attributable to some extent to mid-life crisis, I suppose, but to a greater extent I am probably no different than many who harbor what seems to be a lingering dis-ease with the world around them. From the very local to the world-wide scene, I feel oppressed by leaders who are not "leaders," by the elevation of differences over commonalities, and by the pure, unadulterated hubris exhibited by those in power.

Continue reading "Saviors by Paul Eggers" »

January 20, 2006

Life in the Law: Answering God's Interrogatories

Life in the Law: Answering God's Interrogatories

Galen L. Fletcher and Jane H. Wise, editors

Reviewed by R. Lee Warthen

Every lawyer should read this book. This recent book of thoughts on being a Latter-day Saint lawyer is good meat for the souls of lawyers of any denomination.

You never know what is going on in some back room at BYU; what is being shared at some private little fireside or convocation that those of us outside the greater Provo area are not likely to notice. Now, many of the pearls of wisdom dropped at twenty-six such occasions have been gathered up by Galen LeGrande Fletcher and Jane H. Wise into this little volume entitled Life in the Law: Answering God's Interrogatories.

Continue reading "Life in the Law: Answering God's Interrogatories" »

October 16, 2005

Overcoming The 6-Minute Life:How And Why The Legal Profession Should Free Itself From Billable

Overcoming The 6-Minute Life:
How And Why The Legal Profession Should Free Itself From Billable Hours

by Bentley J. Tolk

Reviewed by Russell A. Cline

Most lawyers earn their living by billing clients for services rendered, and most lawyers bill their clients based on the number of 'billable hours' spent on the client's case. In Overcoming the 6-Minute Life, Utah lawyer Bentley J. Tolk makes a persuasive case for the argument that the 'billable hour' system is responsible for much of the current dissatisfaction experienced by lawyers. Tolk also presents a number of ways to mitigate the negative effects of the 'billable hours' system, as well as alternatives thereto.

In discussing his topic, Tolk integrates an impressive amount of research, including literature from both the legal and popular press. For example, Tolk cites a number of empirical studies demonstrating the increasing problem of lawyer 'burn out,' the recent increases in the 'minimum billable hours' required at large and medium law firms, and how the two are related. One informal study, on 'why graduates of the Harvard Law School Class of 1990 were quitting the practice of law in droves,' observed that by the year 2000, one-half of that class was no longer working in law firms, and twenty-five percent were no longer practicing law. Another commentator noted that 'many new lawyers view themselves as being in a rat race where they are moving ahead without an end in sight. The work of billable hours becomes a monotonous, never-ending reality with no inherent meaning and with no opportunity to be free. . . . Many lawyers have arguably forgotten what it means to play or to experience joy.'

Tolk cites one commentator who stated that 'for each 100 hours that a lawyer bills over 1,500 hours in a given year, 10 percent of the lawyerÕs soul dies.' When a lawyer routinely leaves the office at 8:00 p.m. instead of 6:00 p.m., his or her time with children, a spouse, or recreation becomes almost non-existent. Billing demands often become so all consuming that pro bono work, community service and other activities within the law firm cease to exist. Lawyers rarely have a lunch 'hour,' but will frequently 'wolf down' a sandwich in their office so as to 'make up' for missed billable time. Social outings and holidays seem like items on a checklist that need to be completed so that the lawyer can get back to work. When a friend or family member calls a lawyer during the day, the lawyer resents the intrusion since the missed billable time will have to be made up later. The lawyer begins to value himself or herself based on the number of billable hours he or she produces. He or she constantly has to justify his or her existence in terms of feeding the firmÕs bottom line through billable hours.

Tolk also discusses how billing by the hour often provides the wrong incentives. The system rewards inefficiency since the longer it takes to complete a task, the more the lawyer is paid, irrespective of the value of the work performed to the client. However, '[a] law firm is a business, and the lifeblood of that business has generally been the billable hour.' Tolk has a number of suggestions for how the interests of the firm and the client can be harmonized. Interestingly, Tolk makes a strong case for not under billing clients, arguing that such a practice usually does a disservice to both the client and the attorney.

Tolk also includes a section addressed to law students. As Tolk correctly notes, many law students have a 'rose-colored' view of working in a large law firm. He relates the story of a lawyer who left a large law firm for an academic position, only to find that most of his students wanted to join the same law firm that he and his former colleagues were so anxious to escape. Some law firms are also less than honest during the 'wining and dining' process of recruiting law students. As a result, some new lawyers are shocked by the demands that are suddenly placed upon their time.

In recent years, the starting salaries for new associates have increased dramatically at many large law firms. Tolk notes the irony in this trend, since each time that the salaries of starting associates in a law firm are raised, lawyers at all levels must bill more hours, since increases in billing rates have not been able to keep up with the increases in compensation for new associates. Tolk also dispels the popular myth that lawyers in large firms simply need to work hard for 7-10 years, and then they can live a balanced, affluent lifestyle for the rest of their careers. In fact, the 'treadmill' continues and is not diminished for senior lawyers and partners. Furthermore, many lawyers often spend most of what they make, and do not save much. This keeps many lawyers on the billing 'treadmill' well into their late 60Õs to make ends meet.

Tolk suggests a number of ways to control the negative effects of the '6-Minute Life.' These include setting specific hours to arrive at work and leave work, and other rules as to when work will be allowed to infringe on personal time. Once set, however, boundaries need to be strictly observed to prevent the demands of billable hours from engulfing other aspects of the lawyerÕs life. Similarly, the lawyer must abandon the concept that there can never be too many billable hours, and he or she must view billable hours as 'putting money in the bank.' Once the 'billable hours' account is built up (i.e., the lawyer is ahead of schedule), the lawyer has more flexibility in structuring his or her life.

Lawyers who focus on 'niche' practices (such as tax law, employment law, securities, or environmental law) are relatively more content than lawyers who are less specialized. Specialization provides the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from mastering an area of the law that one loves, and developing a reputation and client basis in a specialized area. 'Niche' practices also often lend themselves to 'value billing,' where the lawyer can bill a flat fee for a particular procedure, irrespective of how many 'billable hours' may be required. A lawyer's fee for services becomes tied more closely to the value produced, rather than the number of hours worked, which is inherently more satisfying. Tolk also addresses a number of alternatives to 'hourly billing,' including 'contingency billing,' 'value billing,' 'flat fees' and bonuses for success.

Overcoming The 6-Minute Life provides a thorough and well-written discussion of its topic. The audience includes any lawyer who bills clients for services rendered on an hourly basis, as well as every law student. TolkÕs writing style is brisk and clear and makes for a very easy read. The book is also well organized, and lends itself well to readers who like to'jump around.'

Tolk has also been unusually candid as to his personal struggles in balancing the '6-Minute Life' with personal and family demands. For example, Tolk discusses having to leave the events surrounding two family funerals early because of the pressures of billing time. His personal comments are a welcome addition that serves to illustrate and personalize many of the concepts he discusses.

Most importantly, the book addresses a very important topic to the legal profession. It serves as a cautionary tale to newer and more seasoned attorneys as to the physical and emotional toll that the 'billable hour' system can extract. It also provides insights and suggestions that are practical, useful and well worth considering. Tolk has set up a website at www.6minutelife.com, which provides additional information, for those interested in the topic. The book is currently available at that website or through e-mailing Tolk directly at bentleytolk@6minutelife.com.

August 27, 2004

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Last Summer of Reason

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Last Summer of Reason
Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

The Last Summer of Reason, by Tahar Djaout

Reviewed by Betsy Ross

What role does literature play in a repressive theocracy? That is a topic each of these novels, one by an Iranian-born professor of English literature and the other by an Algerian writer, addresses. In the process, each gives a glimpse into the Muslim world, giving us a chance to see behind the veils and the homogenous images Islam invokes in Western society. It also provides us a chance to take stock of our own inching toward theocracy - the merging of religious beliefs and political ideology - telling a cautionary tale if we are willing to hear it.

Continue reading "Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Last Summer of Reason" »

June 4, 2003

An Accidental Soldier Memoirs of a Mestizo in Vietnam

"An Accidental Soldier" is a hard book to read. It will challenge your ideas about race, identity, war, and the human condition. It will anger you at times, it may cause you to become defensive, and you may ultimately dismiss it as "unpatriotic" and the ramblings of a cynic and malcontent. I don't know Manny Garcia, a Utah criminal defense attorney, but I sense that this memoir is above all else, honest, and is worth reading just for that.

Continue reading "An Accidental Soldier Memoirs of a Mestizo in Vietnam" »

March 4, 2003

Book Review

Reversible Errors
by Scott Turow

Reviewed by Betsy Ross

What happens when a confessed killer turns out to be innocent? Though I have just given away the ending, the title itself probably already did that anyway. And in any event, the outcome of Reversible Errors is less important than the process, replete with philosophical discussions of the differing points of view involved in death penalty cases. His newest book is the platform for Scott Turow to discuss his views on capital punishment. I thought it timely to look at this issue again given recent events questioning application of the death penalty to minors and the mentally incapacitated, not to mention the persistent drumbeat of victims' rights.

Continue reading "Book Review" »

October 7, 2002

Book Review

Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine
by Raja Shehadeh

Revenge: A Story of Hope
by Laura Blumenfeld

Reviewed by Betsy Ross

World developments of the past year demand an attempt to understand the complex psychologies contributing to current events. These two books, representative of the "natural enemies" of the Middle East situation - one written by an American Jew with strong ties to Israel, the other by a Palestinian living in the West Bank - provide some perspective to understanding the hatred fueling the conflict, and offer some hope, where many see none, for an end to hostilities.

Continue reading "Book Review" »

May 7, 2002

Letters to a Young Contrarian

It was in the early years of the twentieth century that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote"Letters to a Young Poet." In essence an epistolary treatise on poetry, it is the progenitor of Hitchens' twenty-first century epistolary treatise on dissent. Though poetry and dissent may certainly have common ground (after all, didn't Bertolt Brecht write that"Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it?"), the genealogy of the two has more to do with form than content.

Continue reading "Letters to a Young Contrarian" »

October 8, 2001

The Genesis of Justice

Judaism is a religion of laws and of debate. In the article in this month's Journal titled "LDS and Judicial Perspectives on Stories from Jewish Tradition" ("Perspectives"), the authors discuss concepts of justice in stories from the collected works of Judaism: the Torah, or Pentateuch, codified oral laws, commentaries and interpretations of text through stories, or midrash. Alan Dershowitz, in The Genesis of Justice, takes just one text as his focus - the first of the Five Books of Moses, or Pentateuch - and discusses what he calls the beginnings of justice for western civilization.

Continue reading "The Genesis of Justice" »

January 1, 2001

Just Revenge

by Alan Dershowitz
Reviewed by Betsy Ross

The legal trend, these days, is to speak of "victims' rights." In fact, there is a bill almost every legislative session dealing with victims' rights. In the 2000 state legislative session, there were, among others, bills dealing with victim representation at an execution, and a proposed constitutional amendment to allow a "victim counselor" to be present throughout a criminal trial (an amendment to the constitutional exclusionary rule). The victim's viewpoint is, then, the timely focal point of the novel Just Revenge by well-known trial attorney Alan Dershowitz.

Continue reading "Just Revenge" »

About Book Review

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Utah Bar Journal in the Book Review category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Bar Journal Contents is the previous category.

Commissioner Corner is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

The Utah State Bar presents this web site as a service to our members and to the public. Information presented in this site is NOT legal advice. Please review the Terms of Use for more policy, disclaimer & liability information - ©Utah State Bar email: info@utahbar.org