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Advice for new JDs: Make time to read

The Importance of Being Erudite

By Ami C. Janda, Esq.

Erudite – having knowledge that is gained by studying, possessing erudition. Erudition – extensive knowledge acquired chiefly from books, bookish learning.

Intellectual growth should not end with passage of the Bar exam. Hence the requirement of CLEs for professionals who work amid fluctuating and ever increasing case law, regulations, statutes, etc. But CLEs are a limited requirement – in Minnesota spanned over three year increments – and who hasn’t witnessed various attendants distracted by emails on smartphones and tablets? Minds wander, napkins are doodled upon . . .

Beyond law school, any rising J.D. ought heed: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” (John Wooden). Books are not to be slammed shut and left to gather dust following your departure from university libraries. On the contrary: “The best intellectual growth comes from being a consummate, ever voracious reader of books of all kinds” (General W. L. Creech, quoted in American Generalship). Think of all the classes you wanted to take during law school but never got around to, or the information you once learned that has not been retained. For, “[w]hat we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books” (Thomas Carlyle).

BUT – “Are you sure you want to read those enormous law books? Even I don’t like reading them, and I work in the law” (Lemony Snickett, The Bad Beginning). Those colossal tomes on constitutional law and torts are quite the burden to overcome! Luckily, professional journals and periodicals provide far lighter (literally) reading and will keep you informed of changing viewpoints and law in our society and world. In addition to building your knowledge of law, reading will increase your vocabulary and make you a better writer and speaker – skills essential to any effective counselor, from casual conversations with colleagues and clients to formal oral arguments in court, from letters and emails to legal analysis and arguments in various motions and briefs. Reading also will broaden, and challenge, your perspective. Or perhaps some esoteric detail from a book will be recalled at the opportune moment at trial and be the linchpin of your case.

So – make time to read: “If you read a book a month . . . you will read twelve books a year, one-hundred-twenty books in the next ten years, and you will become one of the best read people in the world” (success trainer Brian Tracy). And one of the most expert lawyers in your firm if you read just twelve books this year on a single practice area. Reading need not be a chore either – mix in some fiction as well and current nonfiction.

Allow me to get you started with some criminal justice titles: Anatomy of Injustice (Raymond Bonner), Helter Skelter (Vincent Bugliosi), Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned (John A. Farrell), Defending Jacob (William Landay), The Prosecutor (Bernard Botein), For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder Trial That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago (Simon Baatz), Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments (Dominick Dunne), Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas (Dale Carpenter), In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (Wilbert Rideau), A Lesson Before Dying (Ernest J. Gaines), In Cold Blood (Truman Capote), and Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky).

With a plethora of bibliophilic presidents (such as Thomas Jefferson, who stated “I cannot live without books”) and CEOs (including Barry Sternlight, stating “I read, constantly . . . when I’m on the phone, eating lunch, commuting to work and, especially, when I’m flying,” and Don Soderquist, who said “I’ve always believed reading is an excellent way to learn about leadership”), the question for the zealously toiling lawyer is not when can you make time to read? But rather, when will you find time not to read? Instead of watching TV when you get home from the office, read a book. Start your day with a cup of coffee and a few pages – awaken your mind and have accomplished something before even stepping foot in work. Perhaps the biography of a prominent attorney – have you read the latest Supreme Court memoir yet, My Beloved World by Justice Sonia Sotomayor? As anyone bean counting billable hours should know: “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them, and their value will never be known. Improve them, and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Or in your successful legal career, as it is augmented by an accumulation of erudition attained through assiduous reading! (Remember that supplementation of your vocabulary through reading).

Law school was expensive. To say the least. And a new hardcover book may sell at $40, which yes, could be your next tank of gas to commute downtown to the courthouse, or a few glasses of happy hour networking and another dry cleaning bill. However, “[i]f you empty your purse into your head, no one can take it away from you. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest” (Benjamin Franklin). And bankruptcy 101 can attest to that statement – you can lose your house, but no one is going to take away that paper degree framed on the wall or the stacks of books on your desk.

Too many lawyers! A common lament in this post-recession job market. Rebutted by the shortage of erudite lawyers. The truly fearsome lawyer to behold, clad in her immaculate raven-black suit and clutching her latest lunch break purchase from Barnes and Noble, may whimsically assert: “If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated” (Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest).


Ami C. Janda received her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2007, and Juris Doctor and Certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul in 2009. Janda works as an Attorney Editor at a legal publishing company in Eagan and is licensed to practice law in Minnesota.




  1. That John Wooden bit is a tremendous idea to always consider, a favorite of mine; and it’s a tremendous way to set the tone of your article. Enjoyed reading that this morning. Nice work here, Ami.

    I also liked you bringing up Emerson on opportunity cost. I remember talking w/ my gilfriend about how Americans watch an average of 4 or 6 hours of tv a day (can’t remember which now, it came from a study reported by the Times in late ’11). No idea where anyone gets all that time, or doesn’t feel like a lazy spud after a couple hours on the couch. Reading something new, like on psych or law or an interesting historical event, for even twenty minutes is doing something right. It really is investing your mind. And “Anatomy of Injustice” is to-read for me, my significant other had recommended that the other week. :)

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