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Time for Lawyers To Hit the Books

by Jay Reeves |

Back-to-school means it’s time to once again hit the books – which for most of us is pure pleasure.

Lawyers love stories. We enjoy reading them, writing them and sharing them. Scratch a good trial lawyer and just below the surface you will find a superb story-teller. Ask a contract attorney whether a little word can make a big difference. See if a family lawyer can spell D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

And have you ever caught yourself – or perhaps your lunch companion – saying the following:

“Let me tell you what happened in court this morning.”
“You wouldn’t believe this new client who just came in.”
“Today was a nightmare at work.”

What comes next, of course, is a story. It may be one of humility, hilarity or horror. Or it might combine elements of all three.

No matter. Stories of all types – true tales, wild yarns and inspiring anecdotes – have the power to inform, enlighten and educate.

“Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Top 10 Law Novels of All Time

The American Bar Association gets it. Recently, the ABA Journal ran a list of the 25 Greatest Law Novels.

Here are the Top 10:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee – 1960)
  2. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky – 1866)
  3. Bleak House (Charles Dickens – 1852)
  4. The Trial (Franz Kafka – 1925)
  5. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo – 1862)
  6. Billy Budd (Herman Melville – 1924)
  7. Presumed Innocent (Scott Turow – 1987)
  8. The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne – 1850)
  9. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens – 1859)
  10. A Time to Kill (John Grisham – 1989)

Others that made the ABA list: Anatomy of a Murder (Robert Traver – 1958); The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand – 1943); The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood – 1983); Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Thurston – 1937); and The Caine Mutiny (Herman Wouk – 1951).

A few years ago, the ABA Journal approached the issue a bit differently. Its editors asked prominent attorneys to recommend a book that every lawyer should read. The picks did not have to be law-related – in fact, many were not.

Here were some of the selections:

  • Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (chosen by Cristina Rodriguez, partner at Baker Botts)
  • My Life in Court, by Louis Nizer (litigator Roy Black)
  • The Story of My Life, by Clarence Darrow (civil rights lawyer Morris Dees)
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (Dale Minami, who represented Japanese-American victims of WWII internment)
  • The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Geoffrey Feiger, counsel for Dr. Jack Kervorkian)
  • Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff (San Francisco lawyer James Brosnahan)
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, by Daniel Goleman (ABA President William Robinson)

On September 20 in Asheville, Lawyers Mutual will offer the live presentation “Literature and the Law” as part of its 3-hour seminar “Put Into Practice: Risk Management Tips for Your Firm.”

Full disclosure: I will be the presenter. I will read some of my favorite stories and listen to some of yours. And I can’t wait.

The program will be offered again on November 14 in Greensboro, November 21 in Clemmons and November 22 in Concord.

Register for the Asheville program here. Get more information about Lawyers Mutual seminars here.

Until then, happy reading.

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He will read from his short story “Nylon and Steel,” winner of the 2013 NC State Bar Journal Annual Fiction Contest, at the fall CLE series. Contact jay@lawyersmutualnc.com or call 919-619-2441.

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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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