The way lawyers think about the law can seem deeply mysterious. They see nuance and meaning in statutes and implications in judicial opinions that are opaque to the rest of us. Accessible and thought provoking, Sharpening the Legal Mind explains how lawyers analyze the cases and controversies that come before the courts.
Written by William Powers Jr., the former president of the University of Texas at Austin, this book is an authoritative introduction to the academic study of law and legal reasoning, including insights into the philosophy of law and the intellectual history of legal thought. Powers discusses the methods lawyers use to interpret the law, the relation between law and morals, and the role of courts in shaping the law. In eight chapters, he follows the historical debate on these issues and others through different generations and movements in American legal thought—formalism, realism, positivism—to critical legal studies and postmodern theory. The perfect read for anyone looking for a primer on legal reasoning, Sharpening the Legal Mind demystifies the debates and approaches to thinking like a lawyer that profoundly influence the rule of law in our lives.
Bill Powers earned august titles over his distinguished career at the University of Texas at Austin, including Professor, Dean, and President. But Teacher was the role he most cherished, one in which he was both brilliant and beloved. Sharpening the Legal Mind shows Powers at his best, helping law students and interested citizens better understand what legal reasoning is, and why it is what it is, by making vivid the competing pictures of law, and of life, in which legal practice is embedded. Law school—the first year in particular—can feel confusing and provoke anxiety. It can be a challenging journey. Powers is a wise and humane guide to its rewards.
— Mitchell BermanPart of what made Bill Powers such a gifted dean, and later, university president, was that he never lost his infectious enthusiasm for the life of the mind and for abstract and foundational questions about the law. Readers who did not know Bill as a student or colleague will discover here that side of his intellectual personality. The first three chapters, in particular, are a lovely and lively introduction to legal reasoning, accessible even to the novice.
— Brian Leiter
- Editor’s Preface
- 1. “I Want My Old Mind Back”
- 2. “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers”
- 3. Law’s Contours
- 4. Law and Morals: Positivism and Natural Law
- 5. Historical Schools of Thought: The American Revolution to World War II
- 6. Historical Schools of Thought: The Legal Process School in the Mid-Twentieth Century
- 7. Two Background Moral Theories
- 8. Historical Schools of Thought: Critical Legal Studies and Post Modern Legal Theories
- 9. Methodological Polytheism