About Thinking

When lawyers start talking about The Art of War, I sometimes suggest that they should first read and grok — or at least understand — Lao Tse. My thinking is that without recognizing the philosophical pilings beneath The Art of War a lawyer can reach only a superficial understanding of Sun Tzu’s precepts. There are many paths to the Tao, and law school is not ordinarily one.

In my readings I’ve come upon numerous technologies — some of which I’ve discussed in this space — that may make better trial lawyers. There’s a common thread among these technologies (from acting to survival): they’re about tapping the resources of our brains.

The principle that suggests that we read Lao Tse to understand Sun Tzu also suggests reading cognitive science to understand Lao Tse (and Johnstone and Meisner and Strauss among many others I’ve touched upon here).

Understanding the way our brains work may be the key, also, to persuading jurors. Trial lawyers are always in search of a more direct connection to the minds of their jurors; it seems to me that we might find a more direct route by understanding how those minds work — by being familiar with our destination.

So that’s where I’m headed next. Before that, though, I’m cleansing my intellectual palate with some spy fiction: the works of Charles McCarry, who ranks with Deighton and LeCarré as a master of the genre.

6 Comments

  1. Wow, I wish I had time to do that reading and learning. Or even concentration enough to get myself to learn more about cog sci, which may not have been invented when I was in college. Could I be that old? How do you find the time and sleep, Mark?

  2. It’s a matter of setting priorities. [Warning: heresy follows.] For every hour I spend doing something for which I could bill (were I an hourly sort of lawyer), I like to spend two hours doing something that is not identifiable as work, letting my clients’ problems roll around in my brain. I do some of my best work when I’m not trying to work. That’s when I’m most creative, and ours is a creative profession. This also prepares me for trial work, when snap decisions must be made based on information absorbed over the course of representation. (How’re you ever going to slay any jabberwocks if you don’t stand in uffish thought from time to time?)

    Also, learning appears to ward off Alzheimer’s, and I intend to stay sharp at least until I’m Greenfield’s age!

  3. It it an interesting delusion to think that we can discern the minds of others when we cannot see the tricks our own mind plays on us.

  4. Hey Mark,

    In my experience lawyers (and bankers, and brokers) who read Sun Tzu are generally trying to sound tougher than they really are. They like to quote from military texts because they think it makes them sound like a Marine or a Solider or something. It’s more about wannabe Gordon Gecko or Norman Schwarzkopf than actually trying to understand the philosophy.

    I’ve read Sun Tzu and a bit of Taoism in college. (I liked the Tao of Pooh a great deal, but not the other volumes in the series.) Generally though I’ve not seen the relationship between the two books, beyond the fact both came out of the Warring States Period. Sun Tzu is basic strategy…specifically military strategy for the late iron age but many of the principles can be broadly applied to other forms of conflict. Mao did a great job of updating them for industrial age guerrilla warfare. Sun Tzu was trying to address the problem of the Warring States Period (i.e. the fact the States were warring) through the simple expedient of conquest.

    The Tao was coming at the problem in an entirely different way, on a spiritual level. Sort of like Lincoln’s line “The best way to eliminate your enemy is to make him your friend”.

    So you have seen something here I have failed to see. Perhaps we can talk about it over that lunch I proposed in the e-mail I sent you last week?

    BTW what do you think of The Book of Five Rings?

  5. Mark,

    I really enjoyed having lunch with you and you allowing me to pick your brain for ideas. I enjoyed our conversation on this topic and I want to thank you for leaving a serious impression.

    Remy

  6. Hi, Mark- Lao Tzu’s Taoism is particularly important to me becuase it is closely connected to t’ai chi principles.

    T’ai chi helps me practice law as a harmonious and practical whole http://www.katzjustice.com/taichi.htm .

    One of my two main t’ai chi teachers is lawyer Len Kennedy, who has been Nextel/Sprint’s chief lawyer, but still finds t’ai chi teaching important enough to keep teaching it once weekly.

    Len teaches “No hurry, no worry.” He also asks how we handle change. Do we resist it? Do we deny it? Or, do we do what we are supposed to do, which is to accept the change and work with it? He teaches about practicing the t’ai chi form in unison, as doing otherwise will not get us to tao when practicing in a group. This ties in with staying connected with the jurors, judge, and testifying witnesses.

    Thanks for posting on Lao Tzu. Jon

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