The Best Thing I Learned in Law School – David Boies

David Boies is one of – if not the – most brilliant lawyers in the past 20 years. He’s certainly one of the most celebrated, having argued US v. Microsoft, the landmark case that decided that Microsoft was liable as a monopolist and Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the US 2000 Presidential election.

I can’t remember where he said the following. But I recall his saying effectively that he would take any complex litigation and boil it down to five key issues. If he didn’t win on those, the rest didn’t matter. He needed to master those issues, understand the other side’s arguments better than his and win on those issues. The rest didn’t matter.

That left a lasting impression on me. Boies essentially made the complex simple – something that is really hard to do without making it simplistic. For example, not that I am a master negotiator but the first sign of an inexperienced negotiator is when they argue and need to win on every point. In fact, some of the best negotiators I’ve seen seem to “give” on nearly everything – knowing exactly which issues were the ones that really mattered.

If chemical engineering and electrical engineering can each be boiled down to 4 laws, then I believe any complex matter where one needs to persuade and convince – a pitch, negotiation, recruiting call – can be distilled to 3-5 key points.