Law and Conversation

January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King Day, Father Pfleger, and stories

Getting to hear the remarkable Fr. Michael L. Pfleger speak on violence last week at a meeting of an organization of lawyers and judges to which I belong was especially timely given that today is Martin Luther King Day in the U.S. I can’t adequately summarize everything he said–you need to listen to him yourself–but, among other things, he emphasized the importance of good schools and education for every young person and said that we as a nation must “come to terms with our love affair with guns.” I couldn’t agree more.

Fr. Pfleger is an eloquent, direct, and dynamic speaker whose message deserves wide dissemination. You can read more about him and watch a number of his speeches on the website of Chicago’s St. Sabina Parish, where he is pastor. Be sure to check out St. Sabina’s main page, too, which has other links of interest.

Several rather disparate books I’ve read in the past few years came to my mind on this holiday honoring Dr. King:

1) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a remarkable memoir that takes the 21st-century reader inside the life of a 19th-century slave. The link takes you to a site with the free text.

2) Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty, by Helen Bryan. This well-written and carefully researched biography is not only a fascinating story of its subject but also a detailed study of slavery that demonstrates what a deeply sick system it was and what profound and long-lasting effects it had for our country. A bonus for me was noticing that the author, whose job was quite difficult because her subject deliberately left so little documentation for posterity (Martha burned every scrap of correspondence between herself and George that she could find), is a lawyer.

3) Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. The book as a whole did not quite work for me; it consists of several stories of people in New York City that the author links with 9-11-01, and I did not find that the link was strong enough to call the separate stories a novel. But McCann writes really well. His depiction of the violence and despair in New York’s inner city is realistic and heart-rending.

The speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. are, of course, tremendous. CNN has a story of some that are often overlooked or overshadowed by the more famous “I Have A Dream.”

How inspiring and hopeful that one man could effect such change in our country through determination and nonviolence.

February 15, 2013

3 wonderful website reasons why I don’t always read a book a week

One of my goals for 2013 is to read at least 52 books. In 2012, I averaged just under a book a week. That is a fair amount of reading, though it’s only fair to note that most of my choices were not 500+ page epics. But for this year, I’d like to achieve the congruency of 52 books in 52 weeks. Plus, I’m always looking to improve on my past performance.

With a substantial chunk of commuting time available every day, why didn’t I read more books last year?

Surfing the ‘net may have a bad name, but there’s a LOT of wonderful writing in cyberspace, and mobile devices facilitate finding it even in transit. Here are three great websites that I found only toward the end of 2012, on occasions when I was a bit too tired to decide to focus on a nice, old-fashioned book: A colleague told me about this wonderful site that aggregates long form journalism from publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, New York magazine, Esquire, Outside, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books,….I could go on and on, but why not just click on over and check out the 300+ pages of article links for yourself? Jodi Ettenberg is a lawyer from Canada who quit her BigLaw job in New York in 2008 to travel the world and she’s still going. She explains how she made her decision here. She loves food, too, and has learned how to enjoy wonderful international cuisine, especially from street vendors, even with celiac disease. Like Ettenberg, Angie Orth, whose background is public relations, quit her job in NYC to travel the world. That was in 2010. She, too, is still going. She describes how she maintains her globetrotting life here. Bottom line: she works her behind off and loves it. Her writing, like Ettenberg’s, has a strong, positive, and well-grounded voice. The photos on both blogs are gorgeous.

True, I’ve found a certain amount of junk along with the gems, but it doesn’t take long to hit the X button or delete. I count as well spent the time I’ve enjoyed reading and learning from posts and articles on each of those sites, as well as posts on other sites I found through them, not to mention assorted other interesting folk I follow on Twitter who write on matters other than travel. I don’t keep track of those articles, nor of the print journalism or short stories I read, but it’s a lot!

Screens lure many of us, including me, away from books. But one of my 2013 resolutions is to meet the book-a-week goal. So far I’m keeping up with it, possibly in part because I haven’t visited any of those wonderful sites above since the winter holidays. Here’s what I’ve read in the way of books so far:

A Widow’s Story—Joyce Carol Oates (memoir)

Cleveland—Harvey Pekar (graphic novel)

Peeling the Onion—Gunter Grass (memoir)

The Enchanted April—Elizabeth von Arnim (light classic)

My Brilliant Friend—Elena Ferrante (modern lit, Europa Editions)

The Caliph’s House—Tahir Shah (travel memoir)

My Berlin Child–Anna Wiazemsky (modern lit, Europa Editions)

I’d recommend all of these very different books without reservation and hope to post about most of them this year.

My #FridayReads is a return to Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” which I started and set aside after a couple hundred pages. What’s yours, and what are your reading goals this year?

December 9, 2012

“How to Feed a Lawyer,” by Evan Schaeffer


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).

May 16, 2011

Medical malpractice in Madame Bovary

Earlier I posted about miserable marriages in literature and noted The Guardian’s recent reference to Gustave Flaubert‘s nineteenth century French classic, “Madame Bovary.”

Most think of “Madame Bovary” as a novel about marriage and adultery. It is, but did you know that there’s also a horrible case of medical malpractice within its covers?

The Guardian’s article dismisses Charles Bovary as “boring,” which I won’t argue about.  But he’s also a good man who loves his wife and daughter and does his best to make a living for them. A physician, he unwisely allows a frenemy to talk him into performing an operation on a village youth, who was born with a clubfoot. He hopes the operation will help the youth to walk normally and gain him recognition and renown as a brilliant surgeon.

It’s easy for the reader to see where Flaubert is going with this subplot: Bovary, who’s not very bright, is incompetent to perform the operation and botches it. As a result, the youth who formerly walked with a limp develops gangrene, has to have his entire leg amputated, and can no longer work. In an age before public welfare and before legal remedies for medical malpractice, we can only imagine the young man’s fate.

As a lawyer who knows many excellent and caring physicians and has enormous respect for the medical profession, I become very discouraged when I encounter distrust or antipathy on the part of some of the dedicated members of that profession–not to mention some in other occupations–toward those in my own. What can we do, I wonder, about this unfortunate state of affairs?

I’ve posted before on writers who are lawyers or who were trained in the law, as Flaubert was.  But there are also many doctors who are marvelous writers as well as some great doctor characters in literature. (Interestingly, Flaubert’s father was a doctor.)  Please check back later this week when I’ll have some reading suggestions regarding doctors in literature.

March 25, 2011

Literature, law, and technology: a connected lawyer

I think I’m pretty good at both using the English language and getting my computer to do the fairly limited number of things I want it to do.  But I can’t count the number of times I’ve read an error message, or a warning, or an instruction regarding our computers or programs, and, though the message was clearly written in English, understood it no better than Sanskrit.

Those frustrating experiences, which I suspect many lawyers and others share, underscore why I always appreciate reading and hearing advice from Illinois lawyer Bryan Sims.  On his blog, The Connected Lawyer, Bryan provides pithy tidbits of information and advice on gadgets and software in plain, easy-to-understand English.  Though he directs his advice to lawyers, anyone can benefit from it.

Bryan has a good article in the current issue of Illinois Lawyer Now, published for members by the Illinois State Bar Association, on how to integrate technology into your law office without spending a bundle.  He addresses different, cost-effective options for printers, faxing, and phones and provides examples from his own practice to explain why his own chosen options work best for him.

Bryan speaks on these matters at conferences and always gives a great, informative presentation.  I’ve interviewed and quoted Bryan in articles I’ve written for the Illinois Bar Journal and learned quickly that he’s a very nice and approachable person (as true superstars tend to be).  Bryan also loves to read and posts occasionally about the books he’s read on another blog, I Would Rather Be Reading (great title, Bryan!). I was interested to note Bryan’s post some time ago about how much he and his family love their Kindle e-readers, which, along with many other recommendations and a loan from another generous friend, is inspiring me to try one out.

In related news, the New York Times has an article on which gadgets we can get along without. What sites with technology tips do you find useful?  How about book blogs?  And for those of you with Kindles or other e-readers, do you love them as much as everyone else I  know does?  Anything you don’t like about them?

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