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Sharpening the Legal Mind

Sharpening the Legal Mind
How to Think Like a Lawyer

An introduction to what every law student and practitioner needs to know about legal reasoning.

February 2023
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240 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 | 1 b&w photo |

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.


William Powers Jr. (1946–2019) was a legal scholar, teacher, and the 28th president of UT Austin. He investigated the corruption of Houston-based Enron and outlined his findings in the "Powers Report."

John Deigh is a professor of law and philosophy in UT Austin's School of Law. He is the author of The Sources of Moral Agency, Emotions, Values and the Law, From Psychology to Morality, and An Introduction to Ethics.