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'Law and Literature

     Once upon a time, in a galaxy that is increasingly far away, one of the results of receiving a “higher education” was to become immersed in a shared literary universe.  If someone were to begin a Shakespeare quote in London’s House of Commons, the whole gallery would ring with the magic sway of his words, each member participating in a shared heritage.  It was part of what defined your background, your culture, and your nation.

Things have changed. Every academic field of study is rife with those who earn their tenure arguing against its “canonization.” Why, many in the literary field ask, do we limit ourselves to the dead white Europeans? The question is not an impertinent one. And yet, something is lost when we no longer share a literary universe. If there are no particular books out there that positively must be read, then you are only a short step from choosing to read no books whatsoever. While we share cultural connections, discussing the stories in “Seinfeld” and give knowing nods when somebody at a party brings up double-dipping, there is no such connection on a deeper literary level. Lawyers, in my experience, are a particularly ignorant lot when it comes to this. In law school, fellow-students used to tell me that they were so tired of reading case-law at the end of the day, that they had no interest in reading novels. What? It was like saying you read too many traffic signs on the way home, so you couldn’t be bothered getting around to War and Peace. Your eyes had seen too many dots, I suppose. Many lawyers enter the profession because of some television show or other – in my day it was “L.A. Law” that drew the lambs to the slaughter, these days I understand it is “Law and Order” and “CSI” - but rarely do they come to this field because of something they have read. Rarely do they read works of literature that can elucidate the themes by which they have enwrapped their lives. I think this is a shame. I think law students should be required to take courses on the law and literature, should be required to study themes of justice, punishment, and revenge. They should also read those books that most accurately describe the life of the lawyer. If nothing else, it might dissuade people from joining a profession that has the highest rate of dissatisfaction of all professions.