Sunday, December 6, 2009

Law and Literature

I was at the gay and lesbian institute leadership conference over the weekend and I met several people who had read my novels. One of the asked me if it was difficult to be both a lawyer and a creative writer, a question I have encountered before. The answer is, not really. Writing fiction requires some of the same skills as practicing law: discipline, organization, the ability to think broadly and also to pay attention to detail. Writing a novel is, like producing a brief, a form of persuasive writing because the writer is attempting to persuade readers to suspend their disbelief (in Coleridge's famous phrase) and to enter into the fictional world, even though they know it does not exist, as if it did. Most of all, writing requires discipline, the same discipline required for sitting at a desk for hours, reading and analyzing case law. Writing fiction is work, it's a job or a vocation and the same work habits that lead to success in other fields, like law, are necessary for success as a writer (and by success I mean actually writing the book.)
And what about law? Well, lawyers are professional writers. Like novelists most lawyers get paid to produce written work and their ability to communicate effectively on the page is part of their arsenal of professional skills. Moreover, like fiction writers, most legal writing tells a story; even the seemingly driest insurance coverage case has a story with human beings in it somewhere. Lawyers would do well to study the techniques of fiction and deploy them in their legal writing when they are appropriate. I'm doing my part: I have designed a creative writing course for law students which I hope to teach once this campaign is over.

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