By Joe Tash
Dan Park set out with a straightforward mission — explain to the rest of us why our legal system is so complicated, slow and downright maddening at times.
The result was Park’s first published book, “The Legal Mind — How the Law Thinks.” The 42-year-old Carmel Valley resident took a year to write the book, working around other commitments such as his full-time legal job, and spending time with his family, including his wife, two young sons and two dogs.
“It’s hard to find time to write,” he conceded in a recent interview.
Park’s self-published book came out in November, and is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and e-book editions.
“The law is everywhere around us, but it’s often invisible,” Park said. “When we bump into it, it’s something of a surprise.”
So, using his talents as a writer (he’s been putting words on paper since he was a boy), Park did his best to explain how the legal system works, why it functions the way it does, and how to put this knowledge to good use in a disagreement, whether an argument with friends or a legal dispute. The copy editor for his book was Carmel Valley resident Jen Charat.
Park, a graduate of Yale Law School, has served as chief campus counsel for UC San Diego for the past nine years. He also teaches a course called “Introduction to the Legal System” at UC San Diego Extension.
Most people encounter the law while dealing with some sort of agreement or contract, or due to an accident or unforeseen occurrence, he said. People are then “thrown into the legal system whether they’re prepared or not.”
The legal system operates by different rules than people are used to, he said. For example, he said, if you tell your spouse you’ve had a bad day, he or she might sympathize. But if you tell that to the legal system, you’ll be asked to prove it. “That’s the difference,” he said.
The reason for this disparity? “The law has to resolve disputes between people who disagree,” he said.
The four main challenges to resolving disputes are deception and lies; misperceptions; forgetting (“We forget far more than we remember, and we forget that we’ve forgotten.”); and ambiguity, Park said. The legal system is designed to seek out the truth in spite of such obstacles.
Any assertion made in the legal system must be put to the test, which means providing proof, Park said, something most people are not asked to do in their daily lives.
By knowing what real proof looks like and how to gather it, people can create an advantage in many situations, from seeking a raise at work to resolving a dispute with a neighbor, Park said.
Another common misperception, he said, is the reliability of eyewitness testimony. While many people regard such first-hand accounts as rock solid, he said, “it turns out much of that confidence is misplaced.” Eyewitness testimony is subject to the fallibility of human recollections and interpretations, according to Park.
While our current legal system may not be perfect, it’s far superior to past methods. One-thousand years ago, people solved disputes through “trial by ordeal,” which sometimes involved placing a hot coal in the hand of a suspected wrong-doer. If the hand became infected, the person was guilty. If it healed, the suspect was innocent.
That method was simple and quick, producing a clear, if not necessarily accurate, result, Park said. It was later replaced in England by the jury system. And we’ve been tweaking our legal system for at least the last eight centuries.
The current system is cumbersome, slow and expensive. “but it’s hard to imagine how to avoid that cumbersomeness and still produce results with the reliability we expect,” Park said.
“The Legal Mind” is Park’s first published work, but he has written a couple of mystery novels that remain in the drawer. He said he may publish a novel one day if he writes one that he believes is worthy of public consumption.
For now, he writes when he can, while enjoying time with his wife, Deborah Muns-Park, also an attorney, and his two sons, ages 9 and 12.
He self-published his book, he said, so it could be written for a general audience and made available at an affordable price.
“I think it’s a useful book for people interested in the law and how the law works,” he said.