Law and Conversation

December 9, 2012

“How to Feed a Lawyer,” by Evan Schaeffer

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For an irreverent look at the world of practicing law from a lawyer who hasn’t lost his sense of perspective and humor, check out Evan Schaeffer’s “How to Feed a Lawyer.” Subtitled “And Other Irreverent Observations From The Legal Underground,” it would make a fun stocking stuffer for any lawyer on your holiday gift list.

Evan is a trial lawyer in the St. Louis area and one of the pioneers in the field of lawyer blogging, a/k/a “blawgging.” Back when I was freelancing for the Illinois Bar Journal, I first discovered his Illinois Trial Practice blog, now titled “Trial Practice Tips,” and then found that he also wrote a more freewheeling blog showing a range of eclectic interests, “Notes From The Legal Underground,” now titled “Beyond The Underground.” I interviewed Evan a few times for the IBJ, on blawgging, social media, and on trial lawyering, and he always took or returned my calls, was pleasant, and gave me good commentary. Evan (whom I’ve met in person only once, if memory serves) also sent me a supportive note when I took the blogging plunge myself and even wrote a blog post with kind words about my MentorCLE seminar on legal writing (which you can get Illinois professionalism (ethics) CLE credit for viewing).

Completely unexpectedly, and with no strings attached (i.e., for FTC purposes, as a gift and not in exchange for this review), Evan sent me a copy of his book, and I’ve been enjoying rereading some of the tongue-in-cheek essays that I remember enjoying several years ago on his blog. Seasoned lawyers and recent grads alike will – or should – chuckle when reading such gems as “The Legal Underground’s Tort Reform Glossary” (p. 113).

July 25, 2011

Read This: Watchmen

I recently mentioned that I’d started three books at once, all of which had a common theme of law and law enforcement, and all of which lawyers recommended to me: John Mortimer’s “Rumpole Omnibus #1,” a collection of short stories; Steve Bogira’s nonfiction “Courtroom 302,” and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “Watchmen,” a graphic novel. (I should note that John Higgins gets well-deserved high billing as colorist along with Moore, the writer, and Gibbons, the illustrator/letterer, on the hardcover edition’s title page.) I still have the first two going, but I’ve now finished the third.

What I’d most like to tell you about “Watchmen” is this: Change whatever your reading plans are and move it to the top of your list.

It’s an amazing, complex, multilayered work. If you’d like to know a bit about it before you begin, read the Wikipedia entry, which is scholarly and thorough. It also contains spoilers, so you might prefer to stop after the “Background and Development” section. Once you’ve finished it, you may, as I did, want to reread portions to pick up what you missed the first time around or put some pieces together. The Watchmen Wiki, as well as the rest of the Wikipedia entry, can help you to make sense of anything you missed.

Published in 1986 and 1987 as a 12-volume serial comic book, “Watchmen” is mostly a graphic novel, but interspersed are meta-fictional straight narratives as well as a comic book story within this comic book story–meta-metafiction. Its structure puts it ahead of its time, not only in 1988 but still today. It fully deserves the high praise it’s garnered from, among others, Time magazine, which named it one of the hundred best English-language novels published since 1923.

Have you read “Watchmen?” What did you think of it?

July 23, 2011

Europa Challenge: Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth”

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Over on The Europa Challenge blog today, I’ve posted a slightly modified version of a post I did here some months ago about Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth.” Hope you’ll click on over there, not just to check it out, but also to take a look at other posts, including Trish’s post on Gardam’s short story collection, “The People on Privilege Hill.”

July 15, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Ancient Roman Lawyer

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I’ve posted today over on The Europa Challenge Blog on Alberto Angela’s “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome,” a fictional walk through the Eternal City on one day in the year 115 CE, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. From dawn to dusk, Angela takes us around the city, showing us where the ancient Romans lived and did business with one another, from latrines to the law courts of the Basilica Julia, part of the complex of buildings that made up the Roman Forum. Hope you’ll click on over there to read my post!

Much as I enjoyed Angela’s description of life in ancient Rome, it left me wishing for even more details, particularly about lawyers and the practice of law. He writes of witnesses who traded testimony for money, which I’d definitely like to know more about. If that was a common practice in imperial Rome, how did the judges assess witnesses’ relative credibility and arrive at a good decision? Were some or even many of those witnesses well known to the judges as professional tale-tellers? Did all witnesses expect to be paid for telling the truth? Were the courts an unregulated marketplace where the most golden-tongued witnesses and lawyers were likely to win? Did they function as well as, better than, or not nearly as well as modern courts in dispensing justice? Were there systems for mediating cases outside of court, or for appeals?

Angela’s brief description of Roman lawyers and courts also made me wonder whether any ethical rules for attorneys existed in imperial Rome. He said clients would initially meet their lawyers in the piazza of the Forum and then make followup appointment at lawyers’ homes, but how did lawyers and clients arrive at agreements for representation? Today, at least in the US, ethical rules prohibit lawyers from soliciting business, based on the principle that lawyers shouldn’t go around stirring up disputes. On the other hand, there’s nothing prohibiting an unrepresented person from approaching and hiring a lawyer who happens to be in or outside the courtroom where he’s making his first appearance, as appeared to be happening in Angela’s scenario. Were there formal ethical rules in Ancient Rome? If so, were they similar to today’s rules of professional conduct? Was there a commission that enforced them? Were ancient Roman lawyers ever disciplined or disbarred?

I can imagine that lawyers in imperial Rome, as those today, generally had to focus their practices in certain areas of law instead of trying to handle all types of cases. Was there a distinction between criminal and civil law, or transactional law and litigation? Was there motion practice? What evidentiary rules existed, and what was the standard of proof? How did lawyers know what the law was? Did they have law libraries in their offices? Was there a central law library for lawyers in ancient Rome? Was there a law librarian who would help lawyers find what they needed? Was case law important, and were case files kept and archived? I’ve read that memory played a much more important role in learning in ancient times; how did that affect the practice of law in ancient Rome?

I wondered, too, about ancient Roman lawyers’ business practices. Did they have areas within their homes that were equivalent to today’s law offices, or did they rent space outside their homes to meet with clients and transact legal business? Did they form associations analogous to present-day law firms? Given Angela’s description of Roman homes as generally dark and not terribly pleasant places to spend time, I’m wondering whether Roman lawyers generally transacted their business with clients, witnesses, and opponents in public places, such as the basilica, piazzas, and restaurants. And were certain types of law practice more prestigious than others? Was there a 2nd century equivalent of, say, ERISA practice, or loan workouts, or white collar crime, or family law? To what extent did the concept that injured people should be made whole by those who injured them exist?

Most of all, I’d like to follow one of those lawyers around for a day—say, the attorney Angela describes whose unhappy clients were chasing him down for an explanation after losing their case. Was our man a struggling lawyer living in a dingy no-water walkup on the top floor of a Roman insula, or apartment building, with all sorts of building code violations? He probably wouldn’t have wanted his clients to come to his home, would he—and it probably wouldn’t have been feasible for him to entertain his clientele there, either, would it? So what did he do?

Maybe our lawyer lived in more congenial surroundings. Did he take potential clients out to dinner, or entertain them in his home, or take them to see the bloody spectacles at the Colosseum for fun? Did well-to-do individuals and businesses conduct “beauty contests” to choose their lawyers, as some businesses do today? If so, how did those competitions proceed, and did our man compete?

We’ve probably all learned in school that the public baths were important to ancient Roman society. I’d like more details about that, too. Did the public baths function as health clubs do today, and did they have membership fees for different levels of privileges at their facilities? Did women and girls go? How often? What about slaves—did they ever get to visit the baths? Were there separate days or hours or facilities within the baths for them? Did our lawyer make certain to show up at the baths at prime times and schmooze potential clients, judges, and other lawyers? Did he swim laps and exercise, or just lounge about? Did he engage in whatever was the competition of choice among professional men? Just what was the Roman equivalent of golf, tennis, or racquetball?

I’m also wondering about even more personal details of our lawyer’s life. Was he married? Did his in-laws like him? How did he and his wife happen to meet and marry? Was she the daughter of a lawyer, and did he take over her father’s practice? Did he discuss his cases with her, and did she help him with his strategy and arguments? Did they push their sons into legal careers, and arrange for their daughters to marry lawyers? How did they relate to their slaves? Did they ever think or talk about the morality of owning other human beings, or about tormenting and slaughtering animals and people for fun, or question other aspects of their daily lives?

Angela provides fascinating insights into all aspects of imperial Roman life, so that I can imagine possible answers to many of these questions. But his book is an overview of Roman life and culture, not the story of any individual Roman. In the absence of an imperial Roman Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland file clerk who achieved immortality in his graphic novels detailing his everyday life from the 1980s through the early 2000s, I’d be thrilled to see Angela or another historian-storyteller follow up “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome” with a series that might begin with “A Day in the Life of an Ancient Roman Lawyer.”

June 17, 2011

#FridayReads!

I like to participate in the #FridayReads meme on Twitter. The idea is that every Friday those who like can tweet what they’re reading with the hashtag #FridayReads in the tweet. Putting # without a space immediately before a term transforms it into a hyperlink. You can then click on the hyperlink to see other tweets with that hashtag. So, clicking on #FridayReads in any tweet will take you to a page with an aggregation of the most recent tweets containing that term. The meme seems to get more popular every week and now has its own Facebook page, complete with prizes for those who participate.

This week, I have several books going at once.  Each is from a different genre–one work of fiction, one fictional graphic novel, and one nonfiction–but the three have a common theme: lawyers and law enforcement. My #FridayReads tweet contains all three: John Mortimer’s “Rumpole Omnibus,” Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “Watchmen,” and Steve Bogira’s “Courtroom 302.” I expect it will take me a while to finish all of them, but I often like to be reading several books at a time. I’m enjoying thinking about the different angles and ways that the different writers tell their stories, and I’m thinking that I may be able to see some parallels in these three very different books.

I have an extra incentive to read each book, too:  on different occasions lawyers recently recommended each to me. I’d like to be able to tell those lawyers that I’ve read their recommendations and compare our views the next time I happen to see them! Since I’ve read enough of each to have become quite captivated by their stories, this won’t be a difficult commitment for me to keep.

In the meantime, I’ve been continuing to ponder The Book Show’s list of novels everyone should have read by the age of 21. I have lots of thoughts about that list and about what list I’d create if I were to do so. I hope to post some of those thoughts next week, so please check back with me then.

What’s your #FridayReads?

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