Malice in Wonderland (Paperback)
What Every Law Student Should Have for the Trip
Fine Print Press, Ltd., 9781888960914, 98pp.
Publication Date: June 15, 2012
"Malice in Wonderland," by Thaddeus Hatter (Ben Weiss), is the latest addition to the Fine Print Press stable of law school guides. I was initially not sure that there was room amidst Fine Print's proven thoroughbreds such as the Jagged Rocks of Wisdom series, but Hatter's book is a solid new addition to the catalog.
The book itself is short, but rightly so; this isn't a book that proclaims to cover every single aspect of law school (as other books have done in the past, some successfully, some not so much, and the market is crowded with good examples of both), nor is it a book that proclaims to cover some single niche aspect of law school and legal education. This is a book that distills law school down into a neat package, and could be best described as a "brief" of the successful law school experience, neatly echoing its own advice. Allow me to explain.
Malice in Wonderland concentrates on the "need to know" aspects of law school success; basically, how to brief a case (and why it's important), how to survive the classroom and deal with professors, and how to outline and prepare for exams. Reading the section of the book that covers briefing, Hatter gives what I consider to be one of the best explanations for the entire briefing process that I have ever seen in print; a no-nonsense, common-sense description of what information you need to be getting out of a case and why you need it - most authors fail to adequately address the "why." And Hatter cautions about writing briefs that get too tied up in the tiny details; a brief should, after all, be brief, but still give the reader the information he or she needs from the case itself. He deftly guides the neophyte through the process, without making it sound harder than it is, without making it sound simpler than it is, and without making it more mysterious than it is. (Hatter's strength, in fact, comes from his ability to give the reader just what is needed, nothing more, nothing less.) And he follows his own advice throughout the entire book, not wasting the reader's time on every single little piece of advice about law school (not that books which attempt such a mammoth feat are not worthwhile, but there's a time and a place for encyclopedias, and a time and a place for concise and focused works), but also not simplifying the advice to the point where it fails to be comprehensive. A difficult balance to reach, but Hatter seems to have pulled it off rather neatly, and in effect has written a good brief of how to work effectively through law school. It doesn't contain everything, but it isn't supposed to, and the reader loses nothing through Hatter's careful distillation.
The image I had in my head while reading this book was of the old-fashioned "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters from England during the Second World War - I'm sure you've seen one. To me, that phrase is hinted at throughout the book. It's not a book designed to scare readers with the awesomeness of the law school experience, nor does it try to offer any silver bullets for slaying the beast. The book recognizes that it's law school, it's hard, it's confusing at times, but that by focusing on a few important skills and situations, a very stressful and unpredictable experience can be overcome by just keeping one's head. Through the advice of "Uncle Malice," who makes regular appearances throughout the book, common sense advice is dispensed; the kind of advice which says nothing more than, "Here's how it is," without whipping the reader up into a frenzy of panic. It's advice from a rational, logical, experienced, and honest individual, the kind of solid advice usually dispensed in those casual conversations about your future with the uncle who has done what you're about to do, who has your best interests at heart, and who isn't inclined to beat around the bush.
The book goes on to cover in-class survival and outlining in the same manner, with the author's practical advice given in a highly-readable, often-funny manner. This is best illustrated in his guidance for the Socratic Fire Drill, a situation that every law student has experienced - hearing your name called by the professor when you've been paying no attention in class for a few minutes and have no idea what the question was. The advice given, while excellent for surviving this specific and common situation, is also applicable to the law school experience (and life) in general; think before acting, stay calm, and buy yourself time, but this section of the book is worth its weight in gold if you're not a fan of any form of public embarrassment.
The book, while covering these distinct and important areas of law school, doesn't treat them as unconnected. For example, briefing is explained with the goal of not producing good briefs, but of producing good performance when questioned in class, and producing good outlines for using on exams. At no point is any one aspect of law school treated as being in a vacuum, as can be the case in so many other law school guide books. Context is given and connections are explained. In other words, Hatter makes sure that none of his readers will brief cases or create outlines or mindlessly plod through class just because that's what law students are expected to do. Hatter's readers are briefing cases with a clear purpose, outlining with a clear purpose, and approaching everything in law school with a clear purpose.
I highly recommend this book. It should be read by every incoming law student, but not necessarily as the sole guidebook. Think of Malice in Wonderland as the glove box owner's manual in your car; it covers most of what you need to know to get from A to B in safety and comfort, and how to perform basic maintenance. But the owner's manual won't help when you need the answer to something highly specific, and for that, you do need a more detailed repair manual that covers these kind.