Q&A: What's on Your Bookshelf?
California Lawyer

Q&A: What's on Your Bookshelf?

September 2013


Randolph Gaw
I came up with three books: Plain English for Lawyers by Richard Wydick, which articulates why lawyers should write like normal people. A lot of lawyers are pretty bad writers. This book has tips such as stay away from jargon, be concise, and write in the active tense whenever possible.

Next, A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr, which is the true story of a toxic tort lawsuit in Woburn, Mass., told from the point of view of the lawyers, and it principally follows the plaintiffs lawyers. It's just a great read, but its value for lawyers, and particularly litigators, is that it's very good at conveying what it feels like to be involved in litigation. It also doesn't demonize anyone - it makes it clear that each attorney has a role to play in the adversarial system, and that lawyers are not their clients, but rather representatives of their clients.

My last pick - and this is a little out of left field - is Moneyball by Michael Lewis. To me, this is a book everyone should have and read, not just lawyers. It is ostensibly a book about baseball, but it's actually about pursuing market inefficiencies to gain an advantage over your competitors. Michael Lewis is a genius writer, and the message I took away from the book is that you shouldn't be afraid to shun conventional wisdom, and that there are great profits out there for people who go against the grain intelligently. It's also a book about failure because the A's didn't win it all, and failure is something we all have to confront in our lives. The way that you deal with failure is, in my mind, what distinguishes you from your competitors.

Randolph Gaw is the founder of The Gaw Group in San Francisco, a boutique firm that focuses on business litigation, financial services counseling, consumer litigation, employment litigation and appeals.

Melanie Howard
I think each attorney should have a book of information, a book of motivation, and a book of aspiration. As an intellectual property attorney, my essential treatise, or my information book, is McCarthy on Trademarks by J. McCarthy. Although I am young enough to have been taught exclusively online research in law school, I am old enough to find comfort and consistency in thumbing through the pages of a trusted reference book. I use this treatise daily, and would never sacrifice the shelf space for it.

Motivation: When I was studying for the California bar, I compiled my own study guide - notes, portions of outlines and select reference materials painstakingly distilled from the tomes provided by the study course. In typical "Type A" fashion, I had it spiral velo-bound, and it was my constant companion for the three weeks leading up to the bar exam. I haven't actually opened it in ten years, but it always survives my regular office cleanings for the sole reason that seeing it somehow motivates me to push forward whenever I feel stymied, overwhelmed or discouraged.

Aspiration: Next to my monitor is photographer Annie Leibovitz's American Music , a gift from a client following my first trial. It was an apropos gift, as I am an amateur photographer and great admirer of Leibovitz's work. This book serves a triple purpose for me: a reminder of that defining experience in my early career, an opportunity to clear my mind with a retreat into the world of art, and a challenge to continually strive for creativity and excellence in my work.

Melanie J. Howard is senior counsel in the Los Angeles office of Loeb & Loeb LLP where her practice focuses on intellectual property law, including litigation, counseling and transactional matters in the areas of advertising, technology, new media and entertainment.

Anne Costin
As soon as I heard this question, I had a resounding answer. From a legal standpoint, I have to go with the Rutter Group California Practice Guides. They have a variety of different topics, all on California law - one of the ones I'm really partial to is the Civil Procedure Before Trial Practice Guide. Rutter overall gives you a starting point on any kind of research relating to different practice areas, like family law or employment law. I love knowing that instead of immediately doing a search on WestLaw or on my bookshelf, I can go to this Rutter Guide and it will give me the seminal cases and the important statutes. Lawyers and judges in California write it and they get input from both plaintiffs and defense lawyers, and it's updated every year. It is my number one recommendation to lawyers of any caliber or stage - whether you've been practicing 20 years or one, I think it's a wonderful place to start your research.

As for nonlegal books, I'll start by saying that I love reading. Sadly, I've seen a lot of my friends and colleagues stop reading as they get further into this consuming profession. Picking up a novel can seem so exhausting after you spend so much of your time at work reading, but I've found a way around that: I've developed a love of short fictional stories. They can take you into another world really quickly. More specifically, one of my all time favorites is a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut called Welcome to the Monkey House

After five years with The Dolan Law Firm, Anne Costin started Costin Law Inc., in San Francisco last spring. Her practice focuses on representing employees in discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination cases.

Heather Riley
When I heard the question, I took a good look at my bookshelf. The first thing that jumped out at me is something I use often when I'm dealing with CEQA called Practice Under the Environmental Quality Act . It has explicit CEQA guidelines along with planning and zoning laws - I use them every day.

I'd have to add the Rutter Group California Practice Guides, particularly California Civil Procedure Before Trial and Longtin's California Land Use. I know these are particularly helpful to my niche area of the law, but I really do use them all the time.

On the more personal side of things, there's one that comes to mind that bridges the gap between the law and reading for pleasure. I should preface this by saying that I don't generally like legal books, legal TV shows, or legal films - I find them frustrating and wrought with inaccuracies. But the exception is this book Defending Jacob by William Landay. It's about a family in New England, more specifically about an attorney who's working on a murder trial, and his son ends up being accused of the murder. We read it in my book club, and I always recommend it to lawyers who generally don't like lawyer books. Landay did an excellent job of writing the trials and was able to make it interesting. Another novel that I read recently and really enjoyed is Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. It only tangentially has anything to do with law, but it's a great read.

Heather S. Riley is senior counsel in the San Diego office of Allen Matkins, where her practice involves a variety of land use and environmental matters. She has extensive experience with CEQA, and is currently a board member at the San Diego County Bar Association.

Michael Sugarman
The first thing that I came up with is more of a concept than a specific book - I think every lawyer should have something they can get lost in. It can be a comic book, a novel, a newspaper, or a biography, but the key is it should be something you can sit with for five minutes and be immediately engrossed. The goal is for that story to become real in your mind so you can spend just a few minutes unaffected by work, and hopefully it's something that you look forward to in your day. My personal picks for this kind of distraction are comic books like Batman. (He's a super hero that you could be in theory, which is why I like him).

I also like novels by Dan Brown, such as The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. They generally have very short chapters and are excellent for reading in quick bursts. I think it's something that is really important because, as we all know, there's a lot of stress in this job. Even though there are other things you need to prioritize, I think it's valuable to get lost in a world that allows you some release and a fresh perspective. My other, and more cliché answer, is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. After a long day of legal briefs, the last thing I want to do is read more about law, but it's just such a great book.

Michael Sugarman is an associate with the Law Offices of Steven Goldsobel. Before that, he served as a law clerk in the United States District Court, Central District of California.

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