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Poets teach lawyers what the law is, who lawyers are, why people don’t like them

By Harriet Staff

Michael P. Maslanka (aka “Texas Lawyer”) opines on Law.com about what lawyers can learn from poets:

Poetry illuminates not just who lawyers are, but what they do. It provides not just a factual narrative but an overarching moral one as well. Such narratives, not facts, drive decisions.

But, who knows how the narrative strikes a juror in deliberations? In his book, “The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits,” Lewis Carroll nails it in a chapter titled “Fit the Sixth: The Barrister’s Dream”: “The jury had each formed a different view (Long before the indictment was read),/And they all spoke at once, so that none of them knew/One word that the others had said.”

Even more fundamentally, poetry asks what the law is. The answer from Robert Hass, in his poem “The Woods in New Jersey,” is that law is not a matter of surgical precision but of imprecise, all-too-human measurement and motive: “It’s made,/whatever we like to think, more of interests/than of reasons,/trees reaching each their own way/for the light, to make a sort of order unawares.” The poem is for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., who saw the law as being organic, growing in consensus to meet changing needs and developing issues.

This view of the law is not universally shared . . .


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 by Harriet Staff.