12 Books Every Lawyer Should Read

"Employ your time in improving yourself by other [people’s] writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for."
– Socrates

Scott P. Stolley

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The audacious goal of this article is to change lives. Reading any one of the following books will instigate changes that improve your life. And improving your personal life will inevitably pay dividends in your professional life.

No. 12: The Mindbody Prescription – Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, by Dr. John Sarno

Stress plagues our profession, often leading to chronic pain, commonly in the neck or back. Sarno teaches that most chronic pain is emotionally driven, not the result of structural abnormalities. The real culprit is your brain, which causes the pain to divert your attention from strong emotions that you don’t want to address.

A medical doctor himself, Sarno believed that Western medicine went astray by focusing on physical solutions for chronic pain. This focus reinforces the negative feedback loop by which your brain fools you into believing that something is physically wrong.

Sarno’s profound solution is to cease treating the problem physically and instead address your underlying psychological worries. Not convinced? Watch the movie “All the Rage – Saved by Sarno.”

No. 11: What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn), by Seth Godin

Godin’s simple message is to pick yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to pick you for their team. The key is accepting that your efforts might not work. But the more you fail, the more likely you will eventually succeed.

Godin observes that change makes us feel stupid, which makes us feel afraid. His prescription is to “embrace the stupid” and skip the fear. As Godin says, “The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.”

One of Godin’s best points is that the “market for something to believe in is infinite.” If you demonstrate that your clients can believe in you, they will shower you with work.

No. 10: The Presence Process – A Journey Into Present Moment Awareness, by Michael Brown

Brown cured himself of an incurable chronic pain condition through a breathing and meditation practice. From this experience, he developed a ten-week program for becoming present in your life. As he explains, “When we are present, we enjoy a life saturated with meaning.”

Along the way, Brown illuminates the wisdom in ordinary words, such as:

  • Emotion = energy in motion
  • Blame = b-lame
  • Presence = pre-sense

Most importantly, Brown teaches that “We are human beings, not human doings.” We ignore this at our peril.

No. 9: Loving What Is – Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie

Upon reaching bottom in her life, Byron Katie had the epiphany that four simple questions (what she calls “The Work”) can remake the unexamined beliefs that rule us. The questions are:

  • Is that belief true?
  • Can you absolutely know it’s true?
  • How do you react when you think that thought?
  • Who would you be without the thought?

So, for example, suppose you believe that your mother is crazy. Is that true? If yes, how can you absolutely know it’s true? How can you know that about anyone with 100% certainty? Next, how do you react in response to that belief? Let’s say it upsets and angers you. Who would you be if you did not have that upsetting belief? Perhaps calm, happy, and content.

Katie’s final step is the “turnaround” — you take the original belief and invert it. For example, “my mother is not crazy,” or “I’m the one who’s crazy.”

Listen to some of Katie’s public presentations. You will be spellbound as she applies the Work to rid audience members of their toxic beliefs in real time.

No. 8: Twelve Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan Peterson

Distilling a lifetime of study, Canadian psychologist Peterson has formulated twelve rules for leading an admirable life. Seemingly simple, these rules are as deep as anything you will find. Some examples:

  • Rule 2 — Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. An easy one to forget as you are busy being a human doing.
  • Rule 3 — Make friends with people who want the best for you. We’ve all made the mistake of keeping friends who are bad for us.
  • Rule 6 — Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. Glasses houses, right?
  • Rule 9 — Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t. Tripping over this common fault, lawyers (and judges) often act like they are the smartest person in the room. Perhaps you’re not.

Peterson brilliantly combines psychology, philosophy, religion, literature, and science when elaborating on his rules. It’s a challenging read, but that’s part of the point.

No. 7: Beyond Order – Twelve More Rules for Life, by Jordan Peterson

Peterson’s sequel is just as stellar. As Peterson explains, life requires a balancing between chaos and order. Too much of either is noxious to life and society.

Examples of his next twelve rules include:

  • Rule 1 — Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement. Do you reflexively criticize? Or do you ponder that hard-won experience animates our society?
  • Rule 2 — Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that. What if you were that purposeful?
  • Rule 3 — Do not hide unwanted things in the fog. Confront your problems sooner rather than later. It will only be more painful if you wait.
  • Rule 4 — Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated. If something is not being done, there is an opening for you to step up and shine.

No. 6: Loserthink – How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America, by Scott Adams

The infinitely funny and creative brain behind the Dilbert cartoon, Adams is a keen observer of human organizations. In this book, he outlines the many ways in which human “logic” falls short. In the process, he explains how different disciplines train minds to think differently.

Adams distills many helpful lessons:

  • Don’t engage in mind reading. It isn’t a human skill. Who isn’t guilty of this?
  • Think of your ego as a tool, not your identity. The lesson is to dial your ego up or down to fit the situation.
  • The past no longer exists. Don’t let your attachment to the past influence your decisions today.
  • Occam’s razor is utter nonsense in the way it is commonly employed. We all think our opinions are the simplest explanations. Oops.

If you want to think clearly, Adams shows the way.

No. 5: Win Bigly – Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter, by Scott Adams

Think that people decide based on facts? Adams — who is also a trained persuader and a hypnotist — demolishes that bromide. We wrongly think that “[t]hose who disagree with us just need better facts.” Instead, we need to employ better persuasion techniques. It’s hard to beat Adams for a contemporary take on this important skill.

To help us understand good technique, Adams explains important psychological concepts, such as cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and mass delusion. It’s also important to realize that people employ “filters” for viewing the world. Understanding the other person’s filter is therefore key.

Going deeper, Adams describes some good persuasive techniques, such as the high-ground maneuver, the linguistic kill shot, and pacing and leading. Bad techniques include two favorites of the legal profession — analogies and word-thinking.

No. 4: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

This book rounds out a trio of excellent books by Adams. Have I convinced you that he is more than a cartoonist? In this book, Adams outlines how to create a successful life and career. Like Godin, he believes that the person who fails the most will win.

Along the way, Adams offers pithy advice like this:

  • Goals are for losers. By this, Adams means that most of us strive for goals we never reach, thus making us feel like losers. It’s better to have “systems” for success.
  • The most important metric to track is your personal energy. We are prone to exhausting ourselves.
  • Develop your talent stack. To thrive, you should develop complimentary skills.
  • Simplicity transforms ordinary into amazing. Enough said.

This is the best book of career advice you can give to a young person just launching.

No. 3: Becoming Supernatural – How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon, by Dr. Joe Dispenza

Dispenza offers mind-blowing scientific information about how to elevate yourself into the quantum field, which is the field in which all possibilities exist. He believes this can happen through specific, focused meditation practices. Dispenza explains the impressive scientific evidence for such meditation practices: “When there is a vibrational match between your energy field and a potential in the quantum field, it draws that potential field to you.”

Among other things, Dispenza explains the field of epigenetics, which posits that our genes do not necessarily pre-determine our lives. Rather, controlling our emotions can signal our genes to express in a different way.

Dispenza’s overall message is that “[w]e are not linear beings leading linear lives, but dimensional beings leading dimensional lives.” This is heady and important stuff, lighting the way for better lives.

No. 2: Reboot – Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, by Jerry Colonna

Written by a high-powered executive coach, this book teaches how to overcome your childhood trauma. A common trauma is the presence of people Colonna calls “the Irrational Other.” As children, we are not equipped to deal with such people. Using his own life as an example, Colonna shows us how to heal.

Colonna’s coaching thesis is that “[b]etter humans make better leaders.” The same is, of course, true for lawyering – better humans make better lawyers. Colonna sets the stage for such change through his program of “radical self-inquiry.” The most important question he poses is this: “How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” A penetrating question, indeed.

As Colonna explains, “It starts with the courage to be still in the face of uncertainty.” He believes, as Carl Jung expressed, that “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

No. 1: The Untethered Soul – The Journey Beyond Yourself, by Michael Singer

Like Dispenza, Singer showcases how to operate in another dimension. But Singer is less scientific, instead relying on ancient wisdom brought forward into contemporary times. He starts by asking if you have ever noticed that there is a continuous dialogue inside your head, what he calls the “roommate” in your head. And he asks: Do you own the roommate, or does it own you?

Singer shows how to be the “observer,” not only of the world but also of the roommate occupying your skull. He explains that “You are either trying to stop suffering, controlling your environment to avoid suffering, or worrying about suffering in the future.” The result is that you give your mind an impossible task. This blocks your energy centers (chakras), trapping bad energy in your body and blocking the flow of life-force energy through you.

Singer’s simple truth is this: “If you are doing something to avoid pain, then pain is running your life.” Notice how this harkens back to Sarno’s thesis that buried emotions cause most chronic pain.

Bonus Book: Living Untethered – Beyond the Human Predicament, by Michael Singer

This 2022 sequel is just as good as Singer’s first book. Singer offers important lessons about how to surrender your resistance to reality.


Few of you will be moved to read all of these books. But if you read even one, your life and your career will improve.

Scott P. StolleyScott P. Stolley is a solo appellate lawyer with Stolley Law, P.C. in Dallas, Texas.

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