Lawyers and Literature
Exercise 2-2: Thinking About Our Lives as Stories
Lawyers, before they are lawyers, have taken on some story or stories, important ones from their legal education, yes, but perhaps more significant ones from the families that introduced us to the world, from the towns/villages/communities where we first lived and grew-up, and from the stories blasted at us in popular culture.
Long before one begins the study of law, there is some knowledge of "law and order": judges, trials, lawyers that we learn from parents, watching television, conversations with friends. It is from these various sources of knowledge and stories, before we are lawyers that we enter a profession with already-formed notions of law and what it means to be a lawyer.
Becoming a lawyer involves coming to grips with a set of stories and seeing how these stories are going to hold up out in the world.
"When we tell our stories, we want to create a vivid and continuous dream in the listener's heart and mind. As John Gardner says, this dream is the aim of all fiction, all stories. As an analyst, therefore, I look for the language, details, memories, events, and metaphors that make the analysand's story [that is, the story of the person undergoing psychoanalysis] precise and vivid. I watch for the distractions, defenses, and narrative flaws that break the continuity of the dream. We all . . . have a unique, compelling, and coherent story to tell. When psychotherapy works, the patient can tell her or his story with narrative competence and create a powerful, vivid, and continuous dream in the analyst's mind." [Excerpted from The Narrative Impulse: Telling Stories, "The Educated Heart," Donald Williams, a work-in-progress]
Williams contends that "we create our lives and the world with the stories we hear and tell. In other words, we maintain our world primarily in conversation--inner dialogues, face to face conversations, and a vast series of conversations we carry on through books, newspapers, films, magazines, television interviews, electronic mail, Compuserve forums, and paintings worth a thousand words."
Williams goes on to point out that, "For most of us, the stories we depend upon work like morality plays (Seek this above all; avoid that at your peril. . .), like manuals for adulthood (Here's how to. . .), or like private prayers to soothe and protect us (Now I lay me down to sleep. . .). Well-ordered fictions can be reliable maps and compasses (You are here, there's a road there. . .) and sometimes cosmologies (In the beginning. . .). We could not make death or birth, love or tragedy, human experiences without stories. We would not recognize, experience, or understand the meaning of loyalty, friendship, sacrifice, wonder, grief, or desire without good stories. We will always need new stories and the retelling of old stories."
We might take Williams a step further: In what sense is a story, your own story, or any story therapeutic? To respond to this question, you need to have some sense as to what it would mean for a story to be therapeutic. The word therapeutic is derived from a Greek root meaning to attend, to treat. Today, the word is used to mean having or exhibiting healing powers. Therapeutic refers then to the treatment of disease or disorder by remedial agents or methods. In what sense, then, can we speak of particular lawyer stories as therapeutic?
Note: "There are many stories being imagined
and enacted, but we can only listen to them and comprehend them within
the vernacular contexts of other stories. Our conversations about these
narratives are themselves located and scripted in deeper stories that
determine their moral force. . . ." [Allan C. Hutchinson,
And Law (or Further Adventures of the Jondo), 36 Buff. L. Rev. 285,