If you think you can think about a thing that is hitched to other things without thinking about the things that it is hitched to, then you have [learned to think like a lawyer].
Thomas Reed Powell
It imposes the uneasy burden and occasional joy of a complex double vision, a fluid, ambivalent response to men and events which represents, at its finest, a profoundly civilized adjustment to the cost of being human in this modern world.
I first met Jim Elkins in the summer of 1979 when we were fellows together in a Law and Humanities program under the direction of Professor James White at the University of Chicago. Together with eight other law professors from around the country, we spent six weeks reading and discussing the great classics of Western literature: Homer's Iliad, Thucydides' History of the Pelopennesian War, Plato's Gorgias, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Swift's Tale of a Tub, Burke's Reflections, and Austen's Emma. I do not think I am speaking out of turn when I say that, not just for me, but for all of us, it was one of the most profound educational experiences of our lives.
Often after our daily discussion sessions, Jim and I would go out for a run along the shore of Lake Michigan. I remember one afternoon in particular when we ran for miles along the lakefront. It was one of those picture-perfect Chicago summer days: families with picnic blankets spread out on the grass, kids flying brightly colored kites, dogs chasing frisbees, the smell of barbecued chicken in the air, a gentle cooling breeze blowing in off the lake, sunlight glittering on the water. In our session that morning, we had just finished Thucydides' History and tomorrow we were starting into Plato's Gorgias. As we were running along, I confided to Jim that I had always had difficulty reading the Platonic dialogues. I had never been able to understand what it was that people found so attractive about Socrates. The Socrates who appeared in the dialogues struck me as something of an intellectual bully. Moreover, there was something about the quality of argument in the dialogues that I found deeply dissatisfying. It proceeded at such a level of abstraction that it often seemed to me to be either platitudinous or circular. How could anyone disagree with the proposition that the good is better than the bad?
In response, Jim told me about a book he had read that had a profound impact on his life, a book he had come back to again and again in the early days of his own law teaching: Robert Pirsig's Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book was about teaching and rhetoric and living one's life, but it was also, he told me, about reading Plato. The narrator of Pirsig's novel too, apparently, had been put off by Plato's Socrates, by his ruthlessly dissecting intelligence. In part, the book was about his coming to terms with that, about defining his own relationship to whatever it was that Socrates represented. Sensing that Pirsig's book might strike a responsive chord in me as well, Jim urged me to read it.
Peter R. Teachout, Uneasy Burden: What it Really Means to Learn to Think like a Lawyer, 47 Mercer L. Rev. 543 (1996).