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Re-booting a Skill Set: Remembering that the law is still a valuable source of information

Re-booting a Skill Set: Remembering that the law is still a valuable source of information

I re-booted a neglected skill set last week — reading the law. Like many senior lawyers or lawyers in consulting or administration, we don’t read the law very often. Unless you are a litigator at the point of trial or motion preparation, someone else is reading and summarizing the law for you. Exercising this flabby muscle made me re-learn the value of core legal skills.

The public discussion that started my re-boot is the debate on the President’s powers to take executive action on immigration. I was on the verge of forming an opinion — based on print stories and the cable news shouting. Then I remembered this neglected skill. I am a former constitutional law professor. I should know something about legislative vs. executive action. Yet general knowledge seemed inadequate here.

I began with a summary column by Harvard Professor Jack Goldsmith in Lawfare. He accepts that “the administration has made a plausible case for legality” of the executive actions. He argues that the action contravenes constitutional political norms.

The non-partisan Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department wrote the opinion for DHS and the President’s Counsel. This is where you get to the read the law.

After reading the opinion and several of the leading cases, here is what I learned, at a summary level:

Here is what I learned about the law:

Perhaps you’ve had enough of the law by now. My more considered opinion? The executive action is legal. It may have been politically imprudent or too confrontational, in the political sense. But I don’t think it is illegal. Reading through a swath of the law was challenging for an out-of-shape lawyer. But if you’re a lawyer, don’t you owe to a public debate your skill set in reading the law?

David Cruickshank

Edge Principal advises firms on growth strategies and lateral integration programs. In addition to being a lawyer with a master’s from Harvard Law School and an LLB from the University of Western Ontario, he is a trained mediator who has taught at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School. He frequently trains partners and associates on management skills like delegation, feedback, managing up and career development.  His interactive courses are now online.