The Best Little Book about Lawyering You’ve Never Heard Of (That isn’t Really about Lawyering)

We lawyers are accustomed to borrowing from the worlds of other professionals. We share much with consultants and accountants, maybe a little less with doctors or architects, but they’re all smart folks with fancy educations like ours, and we glean things every now and again that improve our own practices.

I recently stumbled across a brilliant little book about a professional service that I frankly can’t stop gushing about. It captures the journey from the strictures of learning and training and theory to the development of the professional’s self and style, as necessitated by her more complete understanding of, and empathy for, her client.

From the Prologue, modified slightly to genericize the profession (for now):

“Our Profession has long been practiced as a standardized process of construction. As a student of this process, one is taught to methodically operate under the parameters of a historically derived conceptual standard . . . . The premise of this conventional method is that the student be able to demonstrate an acuity for the reconstruction of a list of classically composed [] schematics.
. . . Once the student has exemplified an ability to replicate each schematic with dutiful precision, they are then graduated from this phase of study. Many Professionals continue to build reputations of significant esteem due largely to a mastery over the replication of these classical schematics.”

You can see why I obscured the profession—this description could apply to any credentialed service. We professionals are highly trained, but training (necessarily) emphasizes commonality and foundations. Once we complete our training and are called upon to deliver services that require it, we may find our set of skills insufficient to the task.

Still, we have been certified through a rigorous and expensive process and therefore we must believe that we are equipped to execute our craft. So we set about applying standards and building structure as best we know how—as we were trained to do—and in the end we deliver something that approximates the models we have learned. It is far from perfect at first, but we tell ourselves that we will improve as we develop mastery over our raw materials and bend them into a shape necessary to achieve the recommended outcome.

Of course I have already alluded to another way: The way of learning what the client truly needs—what he Values—and then working with, rather than on, the available materials to craft a solution that the client finds Valuable. And by Valuable I mean that the outcome must fulfill at least one of the Values that the client holds dear.

This way is more difficult. The client’s stated objective does not always align to his Values. People are imperfect and prone to whim, and they sometimes even lose sight of their own goals. Therefore the professional must probe and challenge and clarify the client’s statements to tease out a more genuine truth. And then the real work begins of crafting a solution that satisfies that truth. But the outcome! Having inquired and listened and understood what Value the professional can provide, the delivery of that Value catalyzes a bond between client and professional that is far more robust than any typical buyer-seller arrangement.

This process, this journey of learning to repress your impulse to work ON the client’s matter to deliver a result TO him in favor of working WITH the client to discover a solution FOR him, is what this innocuous little treatise describes so elegantly.

The book is Regarding Head Shape: Acknowledgement Of The Haircut As Form by Ryann Bosetti. And yes, it is about hair. Ms. Bosetti is something of a hair whisperer (an overused cliche) who divides her time between Portland Oregon, Marfa Texas, New York City, and occasionally any number of global destinations where her services are requested. Though it is absolutely and completely an exposition on the craft of haircutting, her book has developed a bit of a cult following (I’m told Beyonce is a fan) for Ms. Bosetti’s careful attention to her art along with her very human approach—sometimes humorous, always honest—illustrating her method for addressing not only the structure of her clients’ heads but the contents within.

An example:

“The Dialogue of a Haircut functions as the sole means of reconciling the abstract interests and motivations of the Subject to the technical and artistic pursuits of the Hairdresser. Within this string of exchanged speech, there lies a verbal record of the profound human relationship that is inescapably wrought in parallel to the sculptural manifestation of the Form.”

As I said in my title, this book is not at all about lawyering (or accounting or architecture) and yet has everything to do with it. It is fuller than a technical guidebook on hair, although the meat of the book is folded into that structure. For measure, Ms. Bosetti gives us snippets (!) of conversation between stylist and client that illustrate the process of unearthing the latter’s Values in an intentional but casual way, all while teasing the reader’s voyeuristic impulses. And at 98 pages, including glossary, it is a quick and enjoyable read.

If you live in a town fortunate enough to host a Publication Studio location, I urge you to visit one and pick up a copy of Ms. Bosetti’s book in person. Although they probably won’t carry it in stock, they will print and bind you a copy in about 12 minutes. Once you start browsing the racks you’ll wish it had taken longer. If you can’t reach a physical store, they will of course sell you a print or electronic copy through their website.

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