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Lawyers’ Poker at the Legal Ethics Forum

David McGowan, blogging at Legal Ethics Forum yesterday, posted a very thorough review of Steven Lubet’s latest book, Lawyers’ Poker: 52 Lessons That Lawyers Can Learn from Cardplayers. Of course, we should expect thoroughness from any writer who declares his intent “to integrate legal ethics, rational choice theory, and cognitive decision theory.” Like most people who dip into Lubet’s book, McGowan finds it highly readable (“he writes beautifully”) and is struck by the broad reach of its lessons:

Professor Lubet’s book is about the most difficult and most important aspect of judgment: how you make choices when dealing with other people who are acting in part based on their perceptions of you and how you will act. Even a non-card player like me can appreciate the strategy of discussing this aspect of judgment in a form many people can appreciate more than the more formal apparatus of game theory.


In poker, as in law and life, you are part of every judgment you make. Your temperament influences your judgment, a fact you have to be aware of, but you also have to remember that your best choice depends on what some set of other people do. And what they do depends on what they think you will do, etc., etc. Professor Lubet’s lesson—that a player’s actions represent to other players a story the player wants his opponents to believe—is as crucial as it is generalizable.

At the end of his review, McGowan proposes a set of rules (‘Lubet’s Rules’ ?) that anyone, not just lawyers or high-stakes cardplayers, might find useful:

1. Never play a game you are not temperamentally suited to play.
2. Always remember that people read and react to you just as you read and react to them.
3. Never confuse luck for skill.
4. Never marry a professional card player.
5. Never, ever, EVER play cards with Steve Lubet.

In a follow-up post, Steven Lubet himself responds to McGowan’s review, proposing his own set of rules for poker players and downplaying McGowan’s fifth tenet:

I must disclaim David’s fifth rule. He cautions that you should “Never, ever, EVER play cards with Steve Lubet,” but in fact, I have to admit that I am not an accomplished card player. I have studied poker in depth for the purpose of applying its principles to law, but that doesn’t give me an advantage at the card table (you wouldn’t expect a Law & Literature scholar to be a great novelist, would you?) So it would be perfectly safe for you to play poker with me; in fact, you would probably take me to the cleaners. Unless I am bluffing . . .

Lubet_lawyerspoker_9780195182439LINK to McGowan’s review of Lawyers’ Poker.

LINK to Lubet’s response.

Recent Comments

  1. Poker as an Ethical Model for Laywers

    Earlier I had written about Steven Lubet’s book “52 Lessons that Lawyers can learn from Card Players” as providing interesting examples about how poker players…

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