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It’s summer and time to look at beach reading for general counsel. What needs to be wedged into the beach bag, between the sunscreen and the multicolored towels? Learn GC survival skills in Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s incisive study of Abraham Lincoln and his rivals — all of whom thought they should be president, most of whom sought the Republican nomination in 1860, and a few of whom believed Lincoln would be their puppet. Some puppet! Lincoln’s Don Corleone insight was to keep his friends close but his enemies closer, making them all members of his Cabinet. He prevailed in this bottle of scorpions with generosity to those he defeated, giving each what he emotionally needed, and getting his points across indirectly with disarming stories, not full-frontal attacks. Sun Tzu nailed Lincoln’s method: Build your adversaries A golden bridge From which they cannot retreat. And speaking of Sun Tzu, make this the summer to finally read him and pick up the best of class: The Art of War: The Denma Translation, which boasts a fresh translation and useful commentary and which benefits from a font and layout that aid comprehension. Looking for a more modern Sun Tzu take? Flip through Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success, Rick Brandon and Marty Seldman’s take on promoting yourself with integrity, verbally dealing with colleagues who are intent on sending your agenda on a detour, detecting deceit, and catching schemers. The section on conversational aikido is first-rate, telling readers that when a colleague dishes out a put-down — “Hi, Joe, nice of you to finally join us for the meeting” — don’t reply with another put-down, such as, “Excuse me, your highness,” or a put-up, such as, “I’m so sorry . . . absent-mindedness.” Instead reply with a put-aside that’s cool and professional: “Joe, you’re obviously upset with my arrival time. I could discuss why now, but I suggest that you and I meet later to talk about it.” The late Frank Zappa was right: “Life is like high school, except with money.” Such verbal aikido will serve GCs well when dealing with troublesome employment law issues, such as a prima donna employee with Category 5 rainmaking skills but a black belt in jerkdom. Mark Stevens, the author of Your Management Sucks: Why You Have to Declare War on Yourself and Your Business, tells a GC exactly what to do: Don’t coddle or pacify. Call his bluff and mean it. “You say you’ll leave if we don’t give you a huge raise? There is the door.” It’s sort of like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part II,” when he tells the senator, who is extorting him for money: “You want my answer? You can have my answer now — no.” Stevens tells a story of how he followed his own advice, helping a prima donna in his own company pack up his desk after the rainmaker demanded a $100,000 loan. Stevens also writes of subtler ways to handle problems, with the wiles that come from 30 years of experience. There is a lot more, but be forewarned: The author is more Marine Corps drill sergeant than new-age guru. Still, a dose of reality is healthy. Less traumatic to read, but equally of value, is Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. Their big idea: Most people spend too much time trying to fix their weaknesses and not enough developing their strengths. Doing more of the second and less of the first will make people happier, wealthier, and wiser. A big bonus is that each book has its own ID number. Readers who go to the book’s Web site and type in the code can take a 90-minute test to discover their top five strengths. As Sun Tzu would remark, warriors need to know the other side, but they also need to know themselves. And speaking of talent, Tom Peters has a new publication — part book, part magazine — called Talent: Develop It, Sell It, Be It. It’s an easy read. It’s also small and portable, so go ahead and splurge, and pick up its sister book-mag by Peters and Martha Barletta, Trends: Recognize, Analyze, Capitalize. Rounding out this summer’s picks are three books to make GCs better lawyers that come from sources they might not initially suspect. The art of persuasion is an indispensable art for every GC, and the single best book I have ever read on persuasion is Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. In 173 pages he lucidly sets out how people frame issues and how to figure out a story to fit their pre-existing frame. This is useful, especially in litigation of employment disputes. A frame wins, or at least damps down damages, when it creates an alternate reality to the one the employee presents at trial. Jurors are already pre-wired in their belief system about which frames will resonate with them and which won’t. The trick is to find the frame that triggers the desired response. In persuasion, as Godin points out, trying to change a decision maker’s frame often brings failure; scoping out the most likely frames and developing facts that fit them more often delivers success. Once, legal and business writing was prolix; now it’s all about brevity and being pithy. Learn these virtues best by studying the art form that embodies them: poetry. To learn, try any one or all three of Roger Housden’s series of 10-poem books: Ten Poems to Set You Free, Ten Poems to Open Your Heart, and Ten Poems to Change Your Life. Don’t let the new-age titles deter you; Housden’s picks are excellent. He writes a short essay to go with each, talking about how the poet distilled broad issues into short spaces. If they set you free or open your heart or change your life — well, so much the better. Finally, detective fiction teaches us much about human nature, about stories on the surface and stories beneath the surface, about why people do what they do. I recommend fellow lawyer Dylan Schaffer’s series featuring Gordon Seegerman, I Right the Wrongs and Misdemeanor Man. Seegerman is a down-on-his-luck lawyer stuck doing misdemeanors for the county, who is not quite sure about the source of his legal ability: “Suddenly, I sound like a lawyer. I have no idea where this comes from. I may well be parroting something I saw on television.” Despite his lowly station, he stumbles into high-profile cases, to which he applies a gritty, ferretlike courage and a sensible view of the legal system: “Trials are worse than a coin flip because jurors come to court with biases and preconceptions . . . often, they are more focused on the lawyer’s hairstyles or apparel than on the evidence.” When not in court, Seegerman plays in a Barry Manilow cover band, frets over whether Manilow will ever come to one of his gigs, worries over inheriting a killer-disease gene from his father, and pines for a diffident girlfriend. But he thinks: It is the maybes that get me out of bed every morning. Maybe next time, Barry will show. Maybe my father’s malady will pass me by. Maybe — just maybe — I will pick up the phone a week or a month from now and it will be Myla. Hope. Everlasting hope. Isn’t that the truth? Enjoy the summer.
Michael P. Maslanka is managing partner of the Dallas office of Ford & Harrison. This article originally appeared in Texas Lawyer , an ALM publication.

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