Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Book Review: Lawyers' Poker: 52 Lessons That Lawyers Can Learn from Card Players.

According to the book's jacket, Steven Lubet is a law professor at Northwestern University. He specializes in trial practice and previously authored Modern Trial Advocacy.

After reading his Lawyer's Poker, "poker enthusiast" needs to be appended to his bio.

Ostensibly, Professor Lubet designed the book as "primarily" "about law and law practice, drawing upon the accumulated experience and insights of masterful card players to demonstrate ways that lawyers can refine their tactics and techniques." (pp. 8-9.)

However, the book dives so deeply into the weeds of highly technical Texas Hold'em poker theory that it nearly abandons any resemblance to a trial practice tome. As a result, the book best serves a single, narrow constituency: poker-playing barristers. Poker players who don't know any thing about trial practice will not appreciate Lubet's sophisticated discussion of trial strategy. Likewise, lawyers who don't play poker will be bored by the minutia explored by Lubet in surprising and mostly irrelevant detail.

Along the way, Lubet weaves in amusing vignettes from classic trials and poker matches. He also betrays his apparent love of film, as he lauds Rounders (a 1998 Matt Damon movie about a poker-playing law student), Legally Blonde, and My Cousin Vinnie in unusually long excursions. (pp. 146-49, 132-34 and 220-26, respectively.)

Lubet brilliantly organizes Lawyers' Poker's 52 Lessons "into four broad categories: 'Diamonds' (maximizing your winnings),'Clubs' (controlling the opposition), 'Spades' (digging for information), and 'Hearts' (ethics and character). (p. 9.) He obviously wrings the most out of his context of cards.

Especially in his last section, Lubet undermines his general thesis that poker and trials have much in common as he repeatedly draws distinctions between the two practices. For example, he concedes: "A life strategy, or law practice, based wholly on poker skills would be a disaster." (p. 191.) Agreed.

Nevertheless, Lubet does generally use poker as an effective teaching tool when he steers away from arcane poker strategies. In one particularly good example, he discusses how a trial attorney during the Bush 2000 election controversy employed a poker term, "slow playing", in how he dealt with an opposing expert witness. Lubet writes: "Lawyers often slow play on cross-examination, lulling witnesses into a false sense of security while setting them up for the kill." (p. 87.) Because this insight requires only general poker knowledge, it's far more useful to the trial advocate than knowing what to do when confronted with the "Doyle Brunson" hand--a 10-2 combination. (p. 58.)

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