Law 561A/B - Strangers to Ourselves: New Work in Psychology and What It Tells Us about Law, Lawyering, and Life

Mark Greenberg

Mark Greenberg

Professor of Law
Professor of Philosophy
B.A. Johns Hopkins University, 1982
J.D. UC Berkeley-Boalt Hall, 1985
B.Phil. University of Oxford, 1990
D.Phil. University of Oxford, 2000
UCLA Faculty Since 2004
Course Description:

Everyone wants to be happier and more productive and to lead a life that is a healthy balance of the personal and professional. In “Strangers to Ourselves,” we’ll draw on recent and often surprising developments in social science, especially in psychology, to help us address the questions of how to be a skilled lawyer, a lawyer of integrity, and a lawyer who is happy and productive. Over the past several decades, research in psychology and economics has provided a body of important and often counterintuitive insights into human nature. This work shows that our commonsense beliefs about ourselves are often wrong; this is the sense in which we are strangers to ourselves. An appreciation of the new understanding of human nature can improve lawyering, for example in selecting juries, arguing to juries and judges, negotiating with other lawyers, drafting legislation, and helping clients to make wise decisions. At the same time, the research presents lawyers with fresh ethical dilemmas, new perspectives on the law, and directions for reform. For example, we now have insight into a range of predictable ways in which decision-makers will behave irrationally. Should it be permissible for a lawyer to present evidence in a way that he or she knows will take advantage of an irrational decision process in, for example, members of the jury? On another front, we’ll read Stanley Milgram's account of his classic experiments in which people obeyed orders to administer what they believed were severe electric shocks to other people. Surprising new work in situational psychology, which builds on Milgram's research, shows that how humans will behave is far more dependent on apparently trivial and fleeting aspects of social context than on deep and stable character traits. We’ll ask if there are meta-lessons to be drawn: it has been demonstrated, for instance, that merely learning about the Milgram experiment makes it less likely that a person will unthinkingly follow orders. This research is particularly pertinent now that lawyers are increasingly working as subordinates to nonlawyers, as well as to other lawyers. As a result, a lawyer faces conflicts between, on the one hand, the instructions of her superiors and, on the other hand, her various obligations to the public, the court, and her client. Finally, an improved understanding of our own minds and those of others can allow us to make better and more fulfilling choices, personally as well as professionally. The workload will be moderate: varying from approximately 40 pages of more dense reading to 60 pages of lighter reading per session. We may consider research on, for example, what kinds of career choices are likely lead to happiness, how people can most effectively learn new skills, and the psychology of peer pressure and motivation more generally. For one session, depending on students’ preferences and interests, we may decide to watch a film.

The seminars will take place, with dinner and drinks, in my home, which is close to campus (a 5-10 minute drive from the law school). The seminar will meet on the following evenings 6:00 - 8:30 on the following dates:

Monday, October 14
Monday, November 25
Monday, March 2
Monday, April 6
Monday, April 27

Course Learning Outcomes:


Course Information:
​Faculty Term Course Section ​Schedule ​Units Requisite Satisfies SAW
Mark Greenberg 19F 561A SEM 5 Unscheduled 0.5 No No
  Course meets 6:00pm - 8:30pm on 10/14, 11/25, 3/2, 4/6, 4/27. Third year students have priority to enroll during first pass.
Mark Greenberg 20S 561B SEM 5 Unscheduled 0.5 No No
  Second part of a yearlong course. The Records Office will process enrollment for this course. Course meets 6:00pm - 8:30pm on 10/14, 11/25, 3/2, 4/6, 4/27.