What lawyers can learn from poets.
by J. Boyle
Law is considered a scholarly profession, so we lawyers consider ourselves scholars. Worse, those of us who concentrate on litigating trials and appeals consider ourselves polymaths. A litigatorâ€™s expertise is process, not substance, so we take any case that walks in the door, assuming we can master the substantive law with our scholarly erudition. Itâ€™s no wonder weâ€™re notorious know-it-alls. And on no subject is our conceit more apparent than literature. We trade in words, so some of us fancy ourselves writers and, yes, even poets.
I have a friend I met as an adversaryâ€”we tried a case together, on opposite sides. Flaubert presumably intended the pejorative connotation of â€œevery notary bears within him the debris of a poetâ€ for lawyers like my friendâ€”he always wants to talk about literature, and I oblige him. But while my former adversary has forgiven me for besting him in the courtroom, he will never forgive me for admitting that, no, I donâ€™t love literature for its own sake, but rather because it sharpens my persuasive rhetoric. He contends Iâ€™m abusing my â€œcreative talentsâ€ by practicing law, but Iâ€™m quite certain heâ€™s projecting. I am a lawyer first, foremost, and always. For me, literature serves the law, not the other way around. As I see it, Flaubert couldnâ€™t cut it in law school anyway and dropped out, leaving lawyers to resolve the denotation of his poetic debris. We take out the poetâ€™s trash.
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