In Pursuit of Justice - Book(s) Review

Over the year-end holiday break, I had a bad cold and used that as a reason to procrastinate on a project and instead lie under a blanket and read books. At first glance the 3 books I devoured may seem disparate:

1. What An Owl Knows by Jennifer Ackerman: A review of the new science on owls.

2.  When Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams: A legal thriller by Georgia activist Stacey Abrams (seriously, how does she find time to do all the other things that she does?)

3.  Big Bets by Rajiv Shah: The President of The Rockefeller Foundation's insight into how large scale change happens within a global institutional framework.

However, all shared the theme JUSTICE, as well as being in the good fight, persisting against incredible odds, and making a meaningful difference.

I needed that message.  Having been in legal operations for 15 years, I joined enticed by the siren song of making a meaningful difference in the practice of law for the 21st century.  The transformation I was expecting within the first decade is still out of reach, and - as is not atypical following the year-end financial close - I was questioning my career choice.  However, as 2024 launches I am feeling significantly rejuvenated once again by legal ops' potential to have positive impact on the legal industry. 

But back to books. Let's start with the owls.  As the companion to a 31-year-old parrot, I have been inculcated into the amazing world of birds. Birds, evolved from the dinosaurs and many eons more evolved than humans have been worshipped for as long as human history is documented.  Owls from Athena's (goddess of wisdom) constant companion to Hedwig in Harry Potter hold our imagination. Ackerman's book covers the lore of owls in cultures around the world spurred by their round human-reminiscent faces, silent flight and inscrutability.  

Last year a vandal slashed the enclosures of a number of animals at the Central Park Zoo.  All of the escapees were recaptured except Flaco, a Euarasian eagle owl about the size of a bulldog.  Photos from his time in the zoo show him looking quite forlorn.  After years in captivity there were concerns about his adapting to the wild, but he took over Central Park and was soon feasting on rats with the silent swoops and aim that only an owl can hone until he devastatingly died in a building collision this past weekend resulting from a lethal dose of rat poison. Ackerman shares the efforts of a great many researchers and owl afficianados, who endure natural and human obstacles, to study and protect owls.

Corruption at high levels of government is a blockbuster theme this year from Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning to While Justice Sleeps.  And no wonder. From an insurrectionist former president to corruption within the Supreme Court, one does not have to have an overactive imagination to sweat over the possibilities.  I have not read a legal thriller quite so, well, thrilling, as While Justice Sleeps since John Grisham's The Pelican Brief. The novel follows supreme court clerk Avery Keene, who unwittingly becomes the legal guardian of an ailing Supreme Court Justice who's razor sharp mind has concocted a path to outwit the machinations or a morally bankrupt President, his murderous aide and an unethical multi-national pharmaceutical company.  REALLY looking forward to the upcoming tv adaptation by Working Title Television.  After finishing the book, for a reality check you may wish to take a peek at's Corruption Perception Index for a reminder that the US still ranks a relatively high #24.

Finally, in Big Bets Rajiv Shah challenges the reader to take on global issues, mindful but not fearful of potential failure.  In the context of his own impressive experience he clearly articulates skills and approaches to think bigger, take risks without fear of failure and retain an optimistic outlook.  Rarely, does a table of contents advertise the themes so clearly: 1. Ask a simple question; 2. Jump first; 3. Open the turnstiles; 4. Make it personal; 5. Know who you are betting on; 6. Keep experimenting; 7. Give up control, and 8. Pivot.  While quite honestly, the book left me a bit depressed with the modest scale of my accomplishments such as they are, it did also give me a renewed sense of what levers have most contributed to the successes I've had and renewed my determination to persist. At the moment, I'm particularly digging the following quote:

"Fast data is better than perfect data that comes too late. Fast data (even with caveats) can help you experiment and scale much more quickly."- Rajiv Shah, Big Bets, p.152

From a legal ops perspective, if you are lookin to be inspired in your work start with Big Bets; look to What An Owl Knows for how persistence and data can make the opaque more clear, and for a refreshing romp through the eyes of a legal superhero read While Justice Sleeps.

What books have you read recently that inspired you? Let's compile our booklists for 2024.