I’m still trying to keep myself honest. For the second month in a row, we get swordfighting Lesbians (although they were way funnier in Gideon than Thucydides):

  • The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Pelopennesian War by Thucydides. This is the text of Thucydides’s classic history, with tons of explanatory extras–maps, cross-references, explanations, timelines, etc. The text is remarkably dense and hard to follow; I’m pretty sure that I would have found it unreadable without the Landmark edition. Except for the prose, which is atrocious, the book feels surprisingly modern. Lots of attention paid to alliances, propaganda, betrayals, logistics–and, of course, the plague that hit Athens. Recommended but only in this version. (Also, in candor, I did not read all the appendices and I skipped sections of the text that were not included in the St. Johns syllabus because holy hell you would understand if you tried to read it.)
  • The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. A fantastic collection of essays that anecdotes to illustrate some basic principles about our relationship with money. If I had to distill a theme: Nobody’s crazy–we’re all viewing the world from different perspectives, with different goals in mind. Luck and risk are real, and results are not correlated with effort.
  • How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life by Epictetus, translated by Anthony Long. Super accessible new translation of the Encheiridion and related reflections from the Discourses. I got more out of the latter than the former but ymmv.
  • The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello by Anthony de Mello S.J. A thoughtful dispatch from somewhere around the intersection of Jesuit, Stoic, and Buddhist thought. De Mello presents some very challenging ideas, many of which I don’t agree with–I get the basic critique of attachments but I have a  hard time applying it to, say, your spouse and kids. Still, plenty worth pondering in here.
  • Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell. A fascinating book about a fascinating book. Churchwell interweaves four basic threads: (1) the story of the Fitzgeralds’ lives while Scott was writing Gatsby, (2) a chapter-by-chapter literary analysis of Gatsby, (3) a description of the United States in 1922 (the year Gatsby takes place), and (4) the story of a highly publicized double murder in New Jersey from 1922. Each thread comments on the others. Fitzgerald’s writing was so tied to the moment that some of the details and meanings have gotten lost. For example, when reading Gatsby, it’s very helpful to know what, say, a green light meant to a motorist in NYC or Long Island in 1922 (usually but not always go, resulting in fatal accidents!). And the details of the Fitzgeralds’ lives are really something. Dry February is looking better all the time.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. You don’t need me to tell you about this. One of my favorite books ever, and I couldn’t not read it after Careless People. 
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. Another re-read. This is a how-to meditation guide by the famous Buddhist monk and peace activist. Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing.

As for online essays, I loved Ideas that Changed My Life by Morgan Housel. Also, The Friend by Matthew Teague (and let’s throw in Can You Say Hero? by Tom Junod from a month or two ago). Yes, I realize that the latter two are Esquire essays from a million years ago that have been turned into movies. But they’re good! And it’s hardly Tom Junod’s fault that I’m shallow and late to the party.

I’m working my way through Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which distills leadership lessons from the careers of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ. Solid read so far.

One of the highlights is the section where a chastened Lincoln responds to his failed stint in congress (following his failed stint in the Illinois state legislature) by deciding to become an elite trial lawyer:

The half-decade that followed Lincoln’s brief and unhappy tenure in Congress is often depicted as a period of withdrawal from public life. He himself claimed that he “was losing interest in politics.” Although one might suspect his claim, it is undeniable that he practiced law more assiduously than ever before. Furthermore, this waiting period was anything but a passive time; it was, on the contrary, an intense period of personal, intellectual, moral, and professional growth, for during these years he learned to position himself as a lawyer and a leader able to cope with the tremors that were beginning to rack the country.

So how did our nation’s most celebrated Vampire Hunter transform himself into a Super Lawyer? Continue Reading Abraham Lincoln: Super Lawyer

Tim Ferriss had an amazing conversation with Jerry Seinfeld that covers Seinfeld’s writing process, the importance of systems, and life. It’s probably the best podcast I’ve every listened to.

Here’s the takeaway: Your brain is a lump of meat in your skull. It responds to rules, rewards, and routines, so you can train it like a schnauzer. If you want to consistently succeed in a difficult field, you have to train it this way. To illustrate, Seinfeld goes through some of his routines for writing, fitness, and meditation.

That is a gross oversimplification. The whole podcast is well worth your time. I’ve pulled out a few highlights below. Continue Reading Jerry Seinfeld on Writing, Systems, and Life

Good stuff out of the Fourth Circuit this week–the Court published an opinion addressing two delightfully nerdy topics, Rule 59 motions and the mandate rule, JTH Tax, Inc. v. Aime

Full disclosure: Before reading this opinion, I did not know that the mandate rule was a thing.

I mean, I could have derived it–it seems like a bad idea to ask a lower court to overrule a higher court’s opinion earlier in the exact same case?–but I didn’t know there was actually a rule saying that you can’t do that. Now I do. So I am literally a better lawyer than I was when I started the opinion. Read on if you are dumb like me and could use a powerup.
Continue Reading CA4 on Mandate Rule and Rule 59

The Supreme Court of Virginia’s argument schedule for next week is up. Here are a few of the cases that caught our eye and why:

  • NC Financial Solutions of Utah, LLC v. Commonwealth: A consumer-finance case raising Federal Arbitration Act and Virginia Consumer Protection Act issues. Strong judge (Judge Ortiz from Fairfax) and a chance that SG Toby Heytens argues on behalf of Virginia.
  • Barbour v. Carilion Medical Center: Judging from the assignments of error, it looks like the trial judge ruled as a matter of law that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in  a medical malpractice case? I need to get the briefs.
  • Bryant-Shannon v. Hampton Roads Community Action Program, Inc.: In a defamation case, the appellant challenges rulings that some statements were not defamatory while others were absolutely privileged.
  • White v. Llewellyn: What does a plaintiff need to prove in a fraudulent-conveyance case once she has established a badge of fraud? Plus a chance that former SG Duncan Getchell argues for White.
  • St. John, Trustee v. Elsea: Looks like we may get some much-needed guidance on the availability of attorney’s fees under Prospect Development Co. v. Bershader.
  • Bolton v. McKinney: Explores the availability of attorney’s fees as direct or consequential damages in a case for breach of a settlement agreement.

After revisiting the Tail End, I realized that there’s only one way to keep me honest about how I’m spending my limited reading time: transparency. So I’m going to start keeping a public list of what I’m reading. As an added benefit, every time I stumble across something good I can let you all know.

With that background, here’s last month’s list: Continue Reading What I’m Reading

SCOVA recently granted an appeal in Norton v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfax CountyRecord No. 201028. Here are the assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred in dismissing Count VIII of the Second Amended Complaint because the Airbnb Hosts produced probative evidence that the Board’s adoption of the STL Zoning Ordinance was unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious where the Board failed to give reasonable consideration for the existing use of property as required by Virginia Code § 15.2-2284 and where the Board offered no evidence (and there was no evidence) of reasonableness to make the issue fairly debatable.

2. The trial court erred in dismissing Counts IV and V of the Second Amended Complaint because the Board’s STL Zoning Ordinance is unconstitutionally vague and violates the Airbnb Hosts’ procedural and substantive due process rights under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, as incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment, by allowing short-term residential occupancy as a by-right use without a permit but also characterizing short-term residential occupancy as an accessory use subject to mandatory permitting requirements.

3. The trial court erred in dismissing Count III of the Second Amended Complaint because the Board’s adoption of the Transient Occupancy Tax Amendment violates Dillon’s Rule because Virginia Code § 58.1-3819 does not authorize the Board to tax the short-term residential occupancy of a dwelling.

Why is this interesting? Three reasons (none of which have anything to do with Airbnb). Continue Reading Appeals Granted: Norton v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County

I always hate it at CLEs when people say things like, “There’s no good writing. Only good editing.” Sure, a first draft is just that, and that you can’t compare your first cut at a brief with another writer’s finished product. 10-4. But how are you supposed to get from that first draft to the finished product? Like, mechanically, what are you supposed to do? In GTD parlance, what is the next physical, visible action?

For years, I didn’t know. So I would just print out my brief and read it, and edit, over and over again. How would I know that I was done? Either I would run out of time, or I would get to the point that I was reversing changes from an earlier iteration.

This was a deeply stupid approach. And it took forever.

I’ve gotten a little better at this over the years. Here’s how: Continue Reading I Am a Lousy Editor and So Can You!