My take on the ABA list of 30 Books Every Lawyer Should Read

The ABA Journal published a list of books lawyers said they would recommend to other lawyers. So I have some questions for you. My answers are in parentheses.

  1. How many of these books have you read? (Two).
  2. What books are missing from this list? (Anything by Earle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason); his stories were part of the reason I became a lawyer. Also, To Kill a Mockingbird, also suggested by others. Also, see question number 4 below).
  3. Why are so many of the books on this list so. . . heavy-duty? (It’s the ABA).
  4. Why are there no books on marketing or making a living as an attorney? (It’s the ABA).

Many readers thought there should be a simple list of all of the books, instead of the awkward way the list is formatted on the site. Thanks to a helpful reader, here is the list:

  1. My Life In Court by Louis Nizer
  2. Colossus:  Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik
  3. 1861:  The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
  4. The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow
  5. Flourish:  A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin E.P. Seligman
  6. And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank by Steve Oney
  7. Personal History by Katharine Graham
  8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  9. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
  10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  11. Leadership on the Federal Bench: The Craft and Activism of Jack Weinstein by Jeffrey B. Morris
  12. My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey by John Wooden with Steve Jamison
  13. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
  14. The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary
  15. In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt
  16. One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School by Scott Turow
  17. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality by Richard Kluger
  18. The Man to See by Evan Thomas
  19. The End of Anger: A New Generation’s Take on Race and Rage by Ellis Cose
  20. Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process by Robert M. Cover
  21. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
  22. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
  23. The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law by Ward Farnsworth
  24. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  25. A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy
  26. Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen and Haskel Frankel
  27. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  28. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  29. Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton
  30. Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy by Stephen L. Carter

In my opinion, this is a list of books one might recommend to someone thinking of becoming a lawyer, not a list for lawyers. We already drank the Koolaid; give us something to read that will make us happy we did.

Is this fee splitting or smart marketing?

Wouldn’t it be great to have hundreds of people referring clients to you on a commission basis?

"You can’t do that! That’s fee splitting. It’s illegal!"

Well. . . it depends.

It’s true that you can’t compensate non-attorneys for referring clients to you. But there’s nothing wrong with paying commissions to people who sell your book or tape set or other product–or service–as long as that product or service does not constitute "legal services".

The idea is simple. Let’s say you’re a divorce lawyer and you write a book (ebook, audio book) entitled, "Squash ’em: The complete guide to successful divorce". You offer your book for sale from your web site. The more books you sell, the higher your profits. But the purpose of the book isn’t just to make a retail profit. Think bigger.

People who buy a book on divorce, written by a divorce lawyer, are likely to be a prospective client for that lawyer’s services, don’t you think? Or someone who works with couples with marital problems, perhaps. When they read your book and see how you have helped other people in their situation, they’ll see how you can help them (or they people they can refer).

If these people do hire a lawyer, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll be the one who is hired, especially if your book offers a free consultation or otherwise invites them to take "the next step".

Okay, so your book does a good job of selling your services to those who read it and the more books you sell, the more clients you are likely to have.

Now, to sell more books, you could advertise, and you might want to do that. You can offer your book on amazon.com and through a myriad of other outlets. But you can also set up an affiliate program and let other people advertise your book for you.

Why not let marriage counselors and people who run support groups, for example, sell your book to their clients? You pay for "advertising" (commissions) only when sales are made.

Technology makes it easy to automate the selling process and track affiliate commissions. All you do is find more affiliates and tell them about your book and the opportunity to market it. The affiliates sell the book, the book sells you, and hundreds of prospective clients find out about you and the services you offer, and pay you for the privilege!

Another strategy is to give away your ebook. Offer it as a download from your web site in return for the visitor’s contact information. You can also invite others to offer it from their web site, as a free resource to their readers, or, perhaps, as a premium for subscribing to their newsletter. The viral nature of ebooks could bring you an enormous amount of target traffic to your web site.

If your book is available online, you’re likely to get inquiries from prospective clients in jurisdictions where you do not practice. Now you’ll have the delightful problem of finding lawyers in the appropriate jurisdictions and developing reciprocal referral arrangements.

There are many other benefits to publishing a book and most lawyers are capable of writing one in about 90 days. If you don’t have the time, you could hire a ghost writer, work with a collaborator, or create something you do have time to do, i.e., a recording of one of your seminars.

One last thing (and I wish we lived in a world where I didn’t have to say this): check with your jurisdiction’s authority (bar association, law society, et. al.) regarding the ethics of this strategy. If they say you can’t do it, move. This is too good an idea to pass up.