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Law professor Kim Wehle's latest book is 'How To Think Like a Lawyer — and Why'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Law Professor Kim Wehle's latest book is sort of in the self-help genre. It's called "How To Think Like A Lawyer - And Why." She offers tips for how you might be able to avoid some big legal bills if you're ever involved in a lawsuit. Our co-host, A Martinez, asked Kim Wehle to lay it all out in a five-step process she calls the BICAT method - BICAT.

KIM WEHLE: B is to break a problem down into smaller pieces. I is to identify our values. A lot of people think lawyers are really about winning all the time. But the law is based on a value system. And I suggest that people be very deliberate about what matters to them with whatever decision there is. C is to collect a lot of information. Thirty years ago, the challenge was finding information in a card catalog at the library. Now it's, how do we separate the good stuff from the bad stuff? A is to analyze both sides. Lawyers have to turn the coin over and exhaust counterarguments or we'll lose in court. And then T is, tolerate the fact that you won't get everything you want every time. My argument in the book is, we can feel good about a decision even if we don't get everything that we want. We have to make compromises.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

So thinking like a lawyer without having to go through law school and studying for the bar exam?

WEHLE: Yeah. Studying for the bar exam is kind of a very difficult bear for a lot of people. But if you learn to think like a lawyer, like I tell my students, you'll get through the bar. The key is to look for questions and not answers. If you could answer every legal question with a Wikipedia search, there would be no reason to hire lawyers. Lawyers are hired because there are arguments on both sides, you know? Every Supreme Court decision that is split 6-3, 5-4, that means there were really strong arguments on both sides. So lawyers are trained to look for the gray areas, to look for the questions are not the answers. And if we kind of orient our thinking that way, I think we're less likely to shut down competing points of view.

MARTINEZ: Kim, what are some of the basic things that people can do - right? - as they gather facts about a particular story or a legal case that they might be trying to build, or an argument that they might be trying to build?

WEHLE: Well, you sort of seized in on Step 3, the collecting information piece. I think it's a new skill for all of us that we are overloaded with information into our phones. We have algorithms that somebody else developed that tailor the information that comes into our phones based on what the computer thinks we already believe. So we have to be very careful about the source of what you're getting, OK? Is this source neutral? Is this source really care about facts and not so much about an agenda?

And then, No. 2 - this is the beauty of social media and the internet - you can pull original sources. We can click on the indictment. Click on the new bill that has been proposed in the United States Congress. Click on, you know, Dave Chappelle's very controversial show that got some people on the left very angry. Watch it yourself. Go to the original sources. And then the book explains ways that you can then sort through that information for yourself. Skills are empowering. Maybe as a replacement for sort of being empowered by being part of a team - a red team versus a blue team - that's been corrosive, I think, in American politics and American society. But arming ourselves with good facts, that leads to self-determination.

MARTINEZ: Now, you've written two other books - "How To Read The Constitution" and "What You Need To Know About Voting" - along with this one, "How To Think Like A Lawyer - And Why." It kind of makes me think, Kim, that you feel that Americans might be lacking a basic level of civics education or understanding. So what is lacking when it comes to teaching civics or in civics discourse today?

WEHLE: You really put your finger on exactly why I've written these three books. You know, studies have shown that around a third of Americans can't name the three branches of government. But if we don't understand our government, we don't know how to hold our government accountable. Democracies can't stay open if we've got elected leaders that are caring more about entrenching their own power and misinformation than actually preserving democracy by the people. I think that's No. 1. No. 2 has to do with a value system. We talk about American values - reward for hard work, integrity, honesty. The same value system should apply to who we hire for government positions. And I think Americans have lost that.

There's a disconnect that's like, OK, I'm on my team - my team blue, my team red - when it comes to my elected leaders. But, you know, in my own life, I'm very careful about who gets to be part of the inner circle because I have a strong value system. Bring that same sense to bear at the voting booth. Don't vote for red versus blue. Vote for people that live your value system. Democracy is very fragile. In Ukraine, we are seeing regular people take up arms to protect their freedoms. In America, the attack on democracy is inside out. And instead of bearing arms in this moment, all we have to do is vote. It's getting harder and harder to do it. But just like the Ukrainians are fighting for their children's democracy, we need to do that as well. And we do that through informing ourselves with good information, tolerating competing points of view and voting - voting, voting, voting - to hold elected leaders accountable if they cross boundaries that matter to us in our own lives.

MARTINEZ: That's Kim Wehle, professor of law at the University of Baltimore. Her new book is "How To Think Like A Lawyer - And Why: A Common-Sense Guide To Everyday Dilemmas." Kim, thanks a lot.

WEHLE: Thank you, A. I really enjoyed the chat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.