Blogging, Rudeness

Thinking Like A Lawyer Is A Technique — Not A Lifestyle

Star Trek, beads and wire, sculpture by Devorah Sperber, Spock, Kirk and McCoy: Beaming-In (In-Between), Microsoft, Studio D, Redmond, Washington, USA" by Wonderlane

From Star Trek — The Motion Picture:

Doctor McCoy: Spock, you haven’t changed a bit. You’re just as warm and sociable as ever.

Spock: Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection for irrelevancy demonstrates.

Spock is a Vulcan. He gets away with living by “reason and logic with no interference from emotion,” but that’s because his extraterrestrial humanoid species gave “massive assistance to a devastated post–World War III Earth, enabling the planet to eliminate poverty, disease, and suffering within a single century.”

Lawyers, unless you can save planet Earth like the Vulcans did, don’t be so cocksure about the upside of being a 24/7, devoid-of-emotion, professional a-hole….

You’re constantly thinking like a lawyer when you:

  • Make “distinctions that do not make a difference to most people”
  • See “ambiguity where others see things as crystal clear”
  • Look at “issues from all sides” without stating your own position
  • Artfully manipulate facts to “persuasively argue any point”
  • Are “far more adept at analysis than decision”

That’s great. Thinking with “care and precision” is a distinguished skill-set. Law school taught you well. But here’s the thing:

Thinking like a lawyer is a technique — NOT a lifestyle.

Your skill-set is like a loaded gun. Keep the damn thing concealed and use only at the right time. Limit your legal sparring to your law colleagues and the courts. Spare your significant other, kids, parents and non-lawyer friends the target practice by leaving your lawyer lip at the office.

Knowing when to holster your inner Vulcan is even good for your clients. Why? Feeling precedes rationality.

Yep, people — including clients — decide based on gut instinct. They apply reasons after they decide — not before. Sure, your Vulcan wit provides the detached analysis that clients need to justify their decisions, but good lawyering is also about an awareness for when to mute your legal skills and appeal to emotion.

Without emotion, we are biologically incapable of making decisions. Logic is often the last step in the process. The conscious intellectual brain steps in to produce a rational backstory to justify impulses generated in the murky corners of the unconscious mind.

Janet Crawford, Neuroscience Business Expert

Understanding the science gives you the advantage over the lawyers who don’t have this insight. As an executive, I’m compelled to decide and act. I don’t get to punt or pontificate. I need the analysis to stop. I want my lawyer toIntuition-Cognition-04-Emotion-Disclosure-300x184 Mike Lehr guide me through a decision-making process that transforms my “vague, generalized emotions into concrete decisions and actions.” Don’t be dispassionate. Counsel me boldly:

Based on my analysis, you could do A or you could do B. If I’m you, I’m doing B for these reasons…

That takes guts. That reflects your own experiences, ideals, values and personal beliefs. That lets me “feel” what you would do in my situation. That draws out my unconscious drivers and helps me decide. So, have a personal point of view. I hire you to influence me. I pay you for your opinion.

The hardest thing about thinking like a lawyer is overcoming the very desire to be rational in the face of uncertainty.

Jeffrey Lipshaw, Law Professor and Former General Counsel

Thinking Like A Lawyer Is A Technique — Not A LifestyleLipshaw is spot-on when he says that “the best business lawyers understand in difficult cases it is possible to offer as many reasons for as against the proposed action. They do not merely deliberate and offer two-handed alternatives. Instead, they put themselves (at least mentally) in the position of the decider and understand what it means to take the leap of a business decision.”

Sorry, Spock, but I wager international lawyer, foreign policy analyst, and public commentator — Anne-Marie Slaughter — is also okay with emotion interfering with reason and logic:

Thinking like a lawyer is thinking like a human being, a human being who is tolerant, sophisticated, pragmatic, critical, and engaged. It means combining passion and principle, reason and judgment.

Take that to heart. One hand will always be Spock but let the other hand be Dr. McCoy.

P.S. An observation inspired by Slaughter’s quote: blogging with your own passionate hand creates deep-down emotional connections with your clients and potential clients. If you want to explore this, read Blogging: Most Definitive Medium For Demonstrating Expertise On The Web.

P.S.S. I also believe that success in business development and leadership is more about emotional intelligence and less about thinking-like-a-lawyer. Agree? Disagree? Why? I’ll include your comments in a later post. Sorry troll-holes but your negative anonymous comments will not be included.

Related Links

  1. Thinking Like A Lawyer by
  2. On Thinking Like A Lawyer by Anne-Marie Slaughter
  3. Descartes’ Error — Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Dr. Antonio Damasio
  4. Dissecting the Two-Handed Lawyer: Thinking Versus Action in Business Lawyering by Jeffrey Lipshaw

Image Credits


Kevin McKeown (@KevinMcKeown) is president of LexBlog, which empowers lawyers to increase their visibility and accelerate business relationships online. With LexBlog’s help, legal professionals use their subject matter expertise to drive powerful business development through blogging and social media. Visit LexBlog.com.

LexBlog also hosts LXBN, the world’s largest network of professional blogs. With more than 8,000 authors, LXBN is the only media source featuring the latest lawyer-generated commentary on news and issues from around the globe. Visit lxbn.com now.

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