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"How Lawyers Lose Their Way" claims that lawyers' unease stems from a distinctive source: their excessive use of and exposure to "formalism" in their work. I think that they are on to something, but the analysis in this book is too underdeveloped to provide much insight into what it is. The authors' use of the term "formalism" risks being so inclusive that it loses explanatory power. In addition, their claim that overreliance on formalism is the chief culprit in lawyers' unhappiness is vulnerable to the charge that lawyers arc suffering the effect of trends in the workplace affecting a wide range of occupations.

Finally, Stefancic and Delgado fail to explore in any depth the material conditions of law practice, and how the evolution of those conditions might relate to the formalism they decry. Their treatment of formalism is, well, formalistic. Formalism seems to be an independent force that rises, falls, and now has reemerged, on its own. This makes it difficult to identify any steps that might help reshape law practice beyond the personal responses of individual lawyers. The result is that the authors leave us with no sense of any collective efforts holding out any promise.

One can't help but be disappointed at this conclusion. In what follows, I lay out the authors' arguments, and suggest how its limitations lead to this result. I then offer some thoughts on how what I think of as hyperabstraction may well pose particular hazards for lawyers, which could have broader social ramifications as well.


© 2005 Association of American Law Schools

Publication Citation

55 J. Legal Educ. 454-471 (2005) (reviewing Jean Stefancic & Richard Delgado, How Lawyers Lose Their Way: A Profession Fails Its Creative Minds (2005))