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A Little Happier: If You Don’t Know the Answer, Don’t Ask the Question


Because I love aphorisms, proverbs, true rules, and Secrets of Adulthood, I’m writing a collection of my own aphorisms, and also collecting my favorites written by other people.

As part of the same project, I’m also collecting “proverbs of the professions,” and I’ve been collecting many different proverbs. I’m still collecting these, with great enthusiasm, so if you have any to suggest, please do send them my way!

I started my career in law, and I was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when I realized I wanted to be a writer. So I take special pleasure in collecting proverbs of the legal profession.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Hard cases make bad law.
  • Dance like no one’s watching. Text or email like someone will read it aloud in court.
  • I’ve won cases I should’ve lost, and lost cases I should have won.
  • If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, just argue.
  • In the courtroom, if you don’t know the answer, don’t ask the question.
  • Making partner at a law firm is like winning a pie-eating contest and learning that the prize is eating more pie.
  • The person who represents himself or herself has a fool for client.
  • Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.
  • The Supreme Court isn’t final because they’re right; they’re right because they’re final.
  • There is no substitute for reading the documents.

My father is a lawyer, and here’s something he told me, about dealing with judges: “If they’ll do it for you, they’ll do it to you.”

I love collecting these proverbs so much! So often, even though they may originate within one profession, they apply elsewhere as well. I’m still collecting them, so send your favorites my way.

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