“What would a night student want with Law and Literachure?” or Law and Literature’s Virtue Reply

I have been wrestling with something for a while.   The question is often raised in my environment, do lawyers need law and literature, law and religion, or law and…. to be good lawyers?  For that matter does Law and Literature actually foster better lawyers?   The simple answer is “I don’t know.”

Oh we can talk about the nature of reading and writing (which we do).  We can hypothecate upon cultural dimensions of law that are reflected in literary traditions (which we do).  We can work on their writing skills (which we do quite a bit).  But, I can’t tell you that a single lawyer that has crossed the thresholds of my law and literature class ever was a better lawyer because of it.  But what I can tell you is that making them better lawyers is not my primary goal.

A few years ago, I interviewed with a law school in the South and during the interview one of the faculty members asked me “What would a night student in [insert Southern city] want with a course like Law and Lit-er-a-chure.” (Spelling intended to mimic the pronunciation).  I was frankly taken aback and responded (and can remember my response word for word): “I don’t know.  I mean I don’t know why a night student would want to take law and literature.  But they should.   Because law and literature challenges the basic presumptions upon which we build our daily existence by allowing our imaginations to freely function.”  (That answer did not get me a job). So let me explain further.

Law and Literature’s virtue is the rest of the legal curriculum’s down fall.  As students memorize the rule against perpetuities, or try to decipher the battle of the forms in contracts, law school constricts their imaginary capacity — leaving them with the distinct belief that every problem has a distinctive legal solution.  I shutter to say this but I worry that we actually create human beings who are less capable of engaging in human endeavors after a few years of law school than had we never gotten a hold of them in the first place.

Law and Literature’s virtue then, is a reminder to our imaginary roots — to the return to literature about human relations, rather than literature that governs human relations.  Law and literature teaches us to question the basic suppositions of life — that questions may be hard, and answers may be hard to come by.   Law and literature teaches us that ambiguity is not such a bad thing, and that every problem does not deserve an answer, but rather deserves simply time — like time turning the pages of a book, or time writing prose that seems plain and mystical at the same time.  That would be my answer today to the question — night students need Law and Literature because their imaginations have stopped, and they need time to allow them to grow. (And I am still certain this answer would definitely not get me a job).

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