Wednesday, September 5, 2018
I choose to spend much of my precious free time in the company of friends old and new. Just in the past few weeks, I've bantered with pilots in a cockpit jumpseat at 30,000 feet, sweltered with desperadoes holed up in a moldering hotel in the East Indies, paced the deck of a British frigate with a tone-deaf captain, suffered the pounding echoes of a sacred Indian cave with an elderly English lady, fumed at the stupidity of Muggles in Little Whinging, sailed with self-styled Amazons in the English Lake District, groomed fellow primates in East Africa, confronted cynical gangsters in LA, and wandered happily through the Hundred Acre Wood with my great friend Christopher Robin.
In law school and my first few years of law practice, I neglected these friends. I foolishly thought I didn't have time for pleasure reading, and that reading fun books was a distraction from the analytical reading demanded by the study and practice of law. How wrong I was! Indeed, working in academic support has made me realize that time spent reading for pleasure enhances the study and practice of law in at least four ways:
1. Better readers are better writers, and writing is at the heart of what lawyers and law students do. Good writers read widely. As William Faulkner famously said, "Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write."
2. Reading for pleasure helps you understand human nature. Much as struggling law students would sometimes like to treat law as a mechanical matter of applying rules to fixed facts, law is complicated precisely because it tries to make sense out of the messiness of human lives. The better you understand human nature, whether the hard-bitten cynicism of Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep), the introspective self-doubt of Horatio Hornblower (Ship of the Line), or the adventurous independence of Nancy Blackett (Swallows and Amazons), the better you can understand the actions, arguments, and decisions of clients, lawyers, and judges.
3. Reading for pleasure helps make you a faster, more nimble reader. Since trying to understand each word, sentence, and paragraph of a complicated legal case can be difficult, law students have a tendency to bog down, reading more and more slowly even when the passage does not demand it. While slow methodical reading has its place, good readers vary their pace according to the demands of the text. Reading strictly for pleasure, often at a rapid clip, is one of the easiest ways to retrain your brain to modify reading speed according to the difficulty of the material. I'm convinced that even fifteen minutes of pleasure reading a day pays huge dividends in increasing overall reading speed.
4. Reading just for pleasure is fun. And as Professor Steven Foster reminded us in his Labor Day post, making time for fun helps you thrive in law school -- and, I'd add, in law practice. (Nancy Luebbert)