This is an ambitious title for this month’s column. I normally espouse that there are very few things that one can say with 100 percent certitude, but will acknowledge an exception here, as I’m sure there is zero chance that all (or even a majority) will agree with this list. I fully anticipate that, and accept it, as this is a personal list that is drawn on my 25-plus-year career as a lawyer and even longer stint as a citizen of Earth. I would expect, and hope, that each reader would have a far different top 10 (and I invite your feedback in that regard).
I have not included one book that focuses on the law, per se. There are far too many excellent tomes that accomplish that task and it would be foolhardy to wade through them to select the best. Rather, this compendium encompasses books that discuss quite a few of the more general, underlying topics that can help you become a better all-around lawyer. Additionally, as even the hardest-working lawyers know, there is a world outside of the office and achieving balance in life is important; this list includes a few books that help in that regard, too.
Our journey now begins with the first five; the remainder follow next month.
1. Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean, by Karen Berman and Joe Knight:
At the risk of dating myself, I recall the advent of personal computers in business and, specifically, law firms. I further remember some partners who took great pride in eschewing their use; some would point to their computer and joke that they didn’t even know how to turn it on. Those days are obviously long gone, as technology is an integral part of our lives and the business world.
While I respected these elders, I inwardly questioned the wisdom of forsaking a tool that was crucial even in those early days. I feel the same way today when I speak to a lawyer who tells me that he’s “not a numbers guy” and doesn’t know much about basic financial data. In light of the alarming, and escalating, failure of law firms (including some that were assumed to be bellwethers) and struggles of corporations of all sizes in our post-2008 world, it is unfathomable that someone would not use financial information to better gauge how his or her organization and others (whether they are clients, competitors, or even prospective employers) are doing.
For all those who struggle in this realm or have decided that now is the time to dig deeper, get this book. It is not overly quantitative, explains essential items (such as balance sheets, debt ratios and related data) and is not a difficult read. In addition to better understanding how your firm or company is doing, this should also help you be a better lawyer, as data of this type is quite likely to come into play in some fashion in your practice.
2. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor:
Chances are good that you may have seen this author during a PBS fundraiser — he is the enthusiastic guy with an infectious, seemingly perpetual smile who discusses happiness. Don’t be fooled into thinking that he is a shill, as Achor is exceptionally bright and has dedicated a big portion of his life doing extensive research on the topic.
Achor spent 10 years living, researching and lecturing at Harvard. He conducted in-depth studies on happiness there and in corporate America that focus on principles that can be applied to business. One particular topic that he addresses quite effectively is the “I will be happy if … (I win that next big case; make partner; become general counsel; make more money, etc.)” syndrome. This is a phenomenon that plagues lawyers and most professionals — all of us who suffer from it can benefit from reading this book. This is just one of many such topics that are applicable to the legal profession.
3. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, by Keith Ferrazzi:
It is almost impossible today for a lawyer to truly excel in a vacuum. In the days of yore, geniuses who lacked good client and interpersonal skills could be holed away in libraries or remote offices because they churned out great work product. This is no longer the case, as firms and companies rarely can afford to carry such lawyers due to prevailing economic pressures.
In this era, even non-rainmakers need to develop networks and become much more adept at interacting with colleagues, clients and others. Ferrazzi’s book is a valuable tool, especially for those who recoil when hearing the word networking and connote it with awkward cocktail parties at which business cards are dispensed like Halloween candy.
Never Eat Alone breaks the process into digestible chunks and offers specific tips as to how one can master the process. Although it is a quick read, the advice is often profound. Some of the author’s tactics may seem a bit aggressive for some, but don’t let this dissuade you, as it will help to push you out of your comfort zone, which is often quite important.
4. How to Read a Person Like a Book, by Gerard I. Nierenberg, Henry H. Calero and Gabriel Grayson:
I have sat through countless meetings and interviews in which lawyers believed that they had “knocked it out of the park.” In many cases this was true, but in others, I knew they had not connected, just by observing the body language of others in the room. The lawyers who thought they had excelled in the latter situations were oblivious to the nonverbal feedback that was being given to them, which caused the disconnect between their belief and reality.
This book, which is a recent update of the original classic, can be invaluable. Some of the advice should be known to even the most oblivious — such as crossed arms signaling that others are not receptive to what they are seeing or hearing. The book is much more nuanced than that, though, and should be helpful to even the most astute observer. The illustrations help to reinforce the authors’ points and accelerate mastering this topic.
5. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill:
The most successful lawyers I know are optimistic, have a plan, and are not deterred by setbacks. Raw intellect, hard work and common sense are enough to get one through law school and serve as the building blocks of a solid career. Super achievers, though, take things to another level and do not simply rely on those characteristics, despite how undeniably important they are.
This book is one of the most popular self-help books of all time; the law of attraction and similar beliefs owe their existence to Hill. Nevertheless, because the book was originally published in 1937, and since the title suggests that it solely is focused on making money, many people don’t know much about it or have not read it. This is a shame, as countless people, who have built businesses, amassed fortunes and generally have reached the heights of their professions, credit this book to their success. In fact, quite a few captains of industry make it a point to reread this book at least once a year.
The beauty of this book is that it causes the reader to define an objective, break down the path to reaching that goal into specific steps, and then leads one to put the plan in writing and to read it daily. Hill was way ahead of his time, as studies have subsequently shown that repeatedly seeding our subconscious with specific goals, when coupled with action, is a proven recipe for success. Do you want to become a partner with a capital “P”? Is your ambition to be a general counsel? No matter the goal in the legal profession, the odds are good that you’ll get there quicker if you read this book and follow the template laid out by Hill.
Frank Michael D’Amore is the founder of Attorney Career Catalysts, http://www.attycareers.com, a Pennsylvania-based legal recruiting and consulting firm that focuses on law firm mergers and partner placements. He is a former partner in an Am Law 200 firm, general counsel in privately held and publicly traded companies, and vice president of business development. He can be reached at email@example.com.